White Sulphur Springs, W. Va.—Normally this week, Jessica Pegula would have been gearing up to defend her Citi Open crown in Washington, D.C. It would have been her first attempt at defending so many ranking points, but COVID-19 had other plans.
"It's been kind of weird," Pegula says. "I know they were eying the Citi Open as the first tournament back which is kind of awkward for me, but also kind of fun."
The world No. 80 is instead competing hard for Orlando Storm heading into the final week of World TeamTennis and looking forward to playing the Top Seed Open in Kentucky, starting on August 10. The Kentucky field is loaded with big names including Serena and Venus Willams, Victoria Azarenka and Sloane Stephens.
Pegula is just moving with the punches.
"I think we're excited to just get back there and get back into tournament play," Pegula says. "Quarantine was fine for me. I was working on some stuff and got to spend a lot of time with my family, so I didn't mind it."
Pegula has a big support system in her corner this month at The Greenbrier in coach David Witt, the former long-time coach of Venus Williams. He parted ways with the seven-time Grand Slam champion in 2018 after an 11-year partnership.
Witt began working with Pegula just two weeks before her milestone win in Washington last year, after which she reached a career-high ranking of No. 55.
"It was awesome," Witt says. "She worked so hard and we clicked right away, and got along, which helps. "We had fun working on some new things. She started off winning Washington, which I was so happy for her."
The 26-year-old would end the 2019 season ranked No. 76, and get a taste of more success in January by reaching the final of Auckland. She took out Caroline Wozniacki in the semifinals before falling to Serena Williams in the title match.
Then came the shutdown, but the duo didn't let up on their momentum with Pegula practicing five days a week and Witt driving down from Jacksonville to her home base in Boca Raton regularly. Witt sees a lot of promise in Pegula, who has been putting up wins in singles, doubles and mixed doubles for Orlando this month.
"She hits such a clean hard ball that, when she gets set up, it's hard to defend," Witt says. "A few things here and there we are trying to get bigger like her serve. Her volleys have gotten better. This has been an unbelievable team [experience] where she's gotten to play a lot of doubles, and feel more comfortable at the net."
"Definitely my serve and my movement and my fitness [has improved]," Pegula says. "I worked on it a lot in quarantine and I think it's been paying off so far."
For Pegula, confidence goes a long way, and competing in WTT is helping prepare her for the WTA tour's reopening both physically and mentally.
"Part of it is believing that she belongs up in that area of Top 40," Witt says. "I think she does. That goes a long way, just confidence and believing that you can do it. She's only gaining confidence playing this."
On Sunday, Pegula put up wins in all three sets she played, helping the Orlando Storm to a 24-17 win over the Springfield Lasers, which boosted them to 7-4 on the season and third in the standings. So far, after stepping into singles for a dismissed Danielle Collins, Pegula has scored wins over Caty McNally, Sofia Kenin, Ajla Tomljanovic and Jennifer Brady.
All of the match experience will help Pegula a lot going into Kentucky and beyond—though most of the pressure of point defense is off because of the new WTA rankings rules. Under the WTA's "Better of 2019 and 2020" rules, player rankings are based on their best 16 results between March 2019 through December 2020.
"She knows what we're working on, so even in matches she's trying to work on it," Witt says. "She's healthy, she's strong, she's enjoying it."
For more photos, videos, results and live action from World TeamTennis, go to WTT.com.