Pegula, Brady set up all-American quarterfinal at Australian Open

Pegula, Brady set up all-American quarterfinal at Australian Open

The last American in the men's draw, Mackenzie McDonald, lost to Daniil Medvedev. Later Monday, Ashleigh Barty eliminated Shelby Rogers in straight sets.

Four  Americans play Monday at the Australian Open, with quarterfinal spots up for grabs. The team will cover each match in this space.

Jessica Pegula d. Elina Svitolina [5], 6-4, 3-6, 6-3

What happened: Jessica Pegula’s breakthrough Grand Slam run continued with her first Top 10 win, and in doing so, her first major quarterfinal.

Pegula's composure against Elina Svitolina absolutely did not reflect her lack of big-stage experience. The world No. 61 had never been beyond the third round of a Slam, but was poised for a big year after a 2020 season that, despite the interruption, built plenty of momentum. The 26-year-old has said she’s felt confident since playing World TeamTennis last July, but she first picked up a spark when she teamed up with coach David Witt in summer of 2019. Witt, as it turns out, was one of the only people able to watch Pegula oust Svitolina in person.

Pegula and Svitolina played just last month in Abu Dhabi, with Svitolina winning in straight sets. But this time around, it was Pegula who came out swinging. After trading holds, she broke for 4-3 and held her nerve to serve out the first set.

“I was telling my coach before, I really admire what she’s like on the court,” Pegula said. “She just puts her head down and just goes about her business. It’s something I tried to do today.”

The American has lots of big-swinging power, which has been accentuated on this year's quicker courts in Melbourne Park. But she can spray shots wildly if she’s not tuned in—and since Svitolina does a great job at defending, she managed to settle in and subdue Pegula in the second set, calmly drawing even.

“In the second set I started to overhit a little bit, I wasn’t moving forward,” Pegula said. “At the end of the second set I think it was important that I got some games in there to get some momentum into the third.”

But the match still felt like it was entirely on Pegula’s racquet. In the third set, she set the tone right away, using her forehand to pull Svitolina around the court. She was the aggressor, hitting 31 winners to Svitolina’s 19. And while it wasn't without some minor stumbles, Pegula was uncowed by the moment and capitalized on her first match point.

For Svitolina, it’s another disappointing Grand Slam performance. Her potential—and ranking—is far greater than her resume reflects: she’s made a major semifinal just twice.

Pegula now awaits the winner of Donna Vekic and compatriot Jennifer Brady. She hopes her hometown of Buffalo, N.Y. is watching:

“I’m sure everyone is excited,” she said. “Buffalo is kind of a small town, but everyone gets behind whoever. Being from there I definitely get a lot of support from everyone. Hopefully I can bring some tennis to Buffalo.”—Nina Pantic

What they said: You probably know by now that Pegula's family owns the NFL's Buffalo Bills and NHL's Buffalo Sabres. Thurman Thomas, running back during the Bills' four consecutive Super Bowls in the early 1990s, weighed in succinctly after Jessie's win:

"I'm just riding the Bills' momentum."—Jessica Pegula

"Well, she has her own game style. She hits the ball quite flat. Of course, she can rally with the spin.But a lot of the time her ball skids. Especially on these courts right now, like today, I couldn't adjust my game. I think this was really not good from my side because her ball skids a lot. It was very tough for me to do something on that."—Elina Svitolina

What it means: "See u next rnd Jen B," Pegula inscribed on the camera after her win. The Western New Yorker can sit back and enjoy her friend's match before hopefully meeting up with a Slam semi on the line.

Jennifer Brady [22] d. Donna Vekic [28], 6-1, 7-5

What happened: Jessica Pegula left the court hoping to play Jennifer Brady in the Australian Open quarterfinals, and her good friend didn’t disappoint.

A year removed from her initial Aussie breakthrough when she stunned Maria Sharapova in Brisbane, Brady, the No. 22 seed and US Open semifinalist, arrived in Melbourne clearly primed to make another deep run at a major tournament.

The American lost only 11 games in her first three matches and began her clash with Donna Vekic penetrating the court with her inimitable topspin forehand.

Vekic, who reached the quarterfinals of the US Open in 2019, snapped a six-match losing streak in the first round of this event and had to save a match point against Kaia Kanepi just to get to the second week. Though a former Top 20 player and equally capable of a screaming forehand winner, her flatter groundstrokes put her at an immediate disadvantage as she struggled beneath Brady’s superior margin and weight of shot.

Striking half as many unforced errors to Vekic in the first set, Brady continued to collect key points, and survived a marathon game—though not as long as the nearly 19-minute game she played against Kaja Juvan in the third round—to serve out her fourth 6-1 set of the fortnight.

Vekic held to begin the second set and called the trainer to address a right leg issue, emerging from the subsequent medical time out with heavy strapping around her knee.

For her part, Brady continued to press and dug out of a 0-30 hole on her own serve and broke in the very next game. Vekic responded with some sharp forehands of her own—including one on the run that left Brady applauding—and nabbed her first break of the match as a deciding set was suddenly in reach.

But Brady gamely stemmed the Croat’s surge, winning 12 of the final 15 points to book the meeting with Pegula, where the two will play for a Grand Slam semifinal.—David Kane

What they said: In this age of hyper-messaging and digital technology, it's great to see players resorting to old-fashioned pen and paper (or, marker and glass):

“I think pretty much everyone got through it. A lot of people were complaining, and I told myself that I wasn’t going to complain. There’s way worse things going on in the world than me being stuck in a hotel room for 14 days…If I started feeling bad about myself or complaining, it would have made the 14 days a lot harder than it was. There were a couple of us who were pretty positive, and tried to, each day, be like, ‘Ok, only five more days, and we’re out.’ We weren’t the only ones doing hard lockdown; every Australian that comes home has to do it. Of course, we’re trying to prepare and be as fit as possible before playing a Grand Slam, but things happen, and things happen for a reason.”—Brady on the hard lockdown

“I’m super excited for her to make her first Grand Slam quarterfinal. I know the emotions she’s feeling; you feel like you’re on cloud nine. We both know each other so well, that I’m really looking forward to it. I think it’ll be a lot of fun, and that everyone back home in America will be watching. There’s a guaranteed American in the semifinal.”—Brady on playing Pegula

What it means: Coupled with her deep run at last year's US Open, it's time to put Brady in the very top tier of hardcourt players, regardless of her ranking—which will continue to climb after this tournament.

Daniil Medvedev [4] d. Mackenzie McDonald, 6-4, 6-2, 6-3

What happened: Daniil Medvedev can now add “Australian Open quarterfinalist” to his glowing resume. The Russian rolled into the elite eight with a comprehensive victory over Mackenzie McDonald.

“It’s an exciting moment [to be] in [the] quarterfinals in Australia for the first time; that’s a great achievement for me,” Medvedev said in his post-match interview. “I want more all the time, but step by step, so this is amazing.”

The fourth seed made a clean start out of the gate, racing to a 5-1 lead. McDonald wasn’t ready to relinquish the opening set just yet, taking back the next three games, before Medvedev ultimately closed it out.

Down two sets, McDonald made a great effort in the final set to slow down Medvedev’s momentum, going toe-to-toe with the Russian. That didn’t stop Medvedev from applying pressure that paid off in the seventh game: a backhand cross-court winner earned him a break, giving him total control of the match.

“It was a great match,” Medvedev said. “I was feeling the ball great. I was serving great. The only time I lost serve was 5-2 in the first set, which finally didn’t matter so much.”

Indeed, that break of serve didn’t matter, but is a testament to the work McDonald has put in physically since coming back from a near career-ending hamstring injury. Currently ranked No. 192, few expected the 25-year-old to come this far in this tournament, but he upset No. 22 seed Borna Coric in the second round and reached the round of 16 without dropping a set.

Medvedev, who joined fellow qualifier and countryman Aslan Karatsev in the quarterfinals, now awaits the winner of the Andrey Rublev-Casper Ruud match.

“Of course I’m going to be [rooting] for Andrey," Medvedev said. "Because if he goes through it’s going to be at least one Russian in the semis, maybe two with Aslan in the other half of the draw.”Ashley Ndebele

What they said: “When you play Mackenzie, many times he’s going to be in control of the games and you just need to defend.”—Daniil Medvedev

What it means: As it turns out, Medvedev will face Rublev in a blockbuster all-Russian quarterfinal. Which leaves Karatsev overshadowed, again. Which has worked out quite well for him.

Shelby Rogers vs. Ash Barty [1]

What happened: When world No. 1 Ashleigh Barty and 2020 US Open quarterfinalist Shelby Rogers stepped onto Rod Laver Arena, both knew what to expect of each other, for the two met in Melbourne just 10 days earlier. Then, Barty prevailed in a 10-point match tie-break en route to triumphing at the Yarra Valley Classic in her first event since February 2020.

Barty elevated her level this time, moving to 8-0 on the year with a 6-3, 6-4 victory. There wasn’t much to separate the two in the opening set, as both were solid on serve and off the ground. With Rogers serving at 2-3, 30-40, Barty’s patience and terrific defense paid dividends, as her backhand slice eventually opened the court to claim the first break—one that upheld as the key difference maker to the Australian opening a one-set lead.

As the match progressed, Barty’s hitting only flourished further. Locked in on return, she worked all corners of the court, from backhands up the line to cross-court forehands to go on a five-game run.

Barty’s lone hiccup of the day came when she led 5-2, 40-15. Beginning to rush her shots and with Rogers pressing the issue, the 2019 Roland Garros champion lost the next four points to get broken for the first time. But with the luxury of a double break, Barty composed herself beautifully to shut the door at love. She finished with 21 winners to 16 unforced errors in the 71-minute victory. Matt Fitzgerald


What they said: “It's really exciting to be through to another quarterfinal,” she told Casey Dellacqua. “I knew my serve was gonna be massive, not giving Shelby too many looks at second serves. She's a player that can take a match away from you very quickly. So I needed to have my running shoes on.”

In press, Barty added, “There was a couple of runs of points, runs of games in our match last week that Shelby was able to get on a roll and run away with it a little bit. I wanted to try and avoid that. Just bring it back on my terms as much as I could and try and be the aggressor when I could, as well.”

What it means: For a shot at returning to the semifinals, Barty will meet No. 25 seed Karolina Muchova. The Czech edged No. 18 seed, Elise Mertens, 7-6 (5), 7-5.