After tour-level breakthroughs, Pegula sets sights on Slam success
Buffalo, New York native Jessica Pegula has been a player on the rise for quite some time. She picked up her first title last year at the Citi Open and earlier this season reached her third career final at Auckland, where she lost a close battle with Serena Williams. After her impressive first-round win over Jennifer Brady at the Western and Southern Open on Sunday, we caught up with the 26-year-old World No.83 to find out more about her goals, how she feels about her current level of tennis, and why she thinks it’s time for her to make a splash in New York City.
How would you assess your level right now? Is this the best it’s ever been for you?
“Yeah, I’d say probably the last year or so. I think before that my level picked up as well. I made the finals of Quebec City (in 2018), broke into the Top 100 (early in 2019). But personally I think I kind of hit another level in like the past year, consistently kind of trying to keep up my results. Main goal is to obviously do better in the Slams, I think that’s where I’ve really been lacking, to be honest. Especially just points wise and just getting wins, and experience wise in Slams.
How much have injuries slowed your progress and what have you learned from those difficult experiences?
“Yes, it was really rough but I definitely learned how to take care of myself better. I always worked hard but I think now I am just so much smarter. With nutrition and just working out, and stuff has gotten so much more advanced.
“The past year and a half I found a trainer I really trust and like, so that’s been really helpful because I feel like when there’s little nagging things that it’s not going to be a big deal and it’s something that I can work through. Obviously there is going to be stuff that pops up. So I think I just know my body a lot better. I trust myself in making those decisions in how I feel and what I need to do.”
Your movement is clearly improved. Besides helping you get a few more balls back what else does it help you unlock in your game?
“Naturally I play aggressive and I hit big but I think my movement has been able to get me a few more points that I wouldn’t have been able to win a few years ago. I’m making better decisions because I am getting to more balls. When I’m off the court I don’t feel like I need to go for a winner, I’m like ‘I’m here, I can get back in this point.’ So I think that plays a big part.
I think also transitioning. Playing other big hitters, because I think every girl hits big nowadays, I am able to kind of change the pace, I’m able to hit high, I’m able to get in position better, and I’m able to kind of transition the point into an offensive point as well.
“I feel like because I am moving well. I can go from defense and then get back in the point and then still win the point with an offensive shot. I feel like I am figuring it out better, my feel around the court is definitely a lot better from being able to move better, and anticipate better too, which I think is a big part.
What kind of role has David Witt played in your success of late, can you comment on what it has been like to work with him (Witt coached Venus Williams for 11 years)?
“He’s been great. Again we started like last year. He has definitely wanted to improve my serve and return. I always returned well, but he really wanted to make it even better. Definitely serve and return he has helped a lot on, and movement wise, he just kind of tells me to compete, and also to play better shots when I’m on the defensive, hitting the high lob, hitting my slice a lot more. Helping me make those shots better, so now that I’m moving better, kind of making better decisions when I’m pulled off the court, that has helped a lot.
Finally it has been a long time since you had success at a Slam, seems like you are ready more than ever. What would it mean to you to go on a run in New York?
“Of course I definitely want to do well here and I want to do well next week. Again I like that the courts are faster so that automatically puts me in a better mood. I think I’m playing really well and I am liking the conditions right now, so it’s definitely going to give me confidence going into the next two weeks.
“Yeah, I really want to do well in Slams and I think it’s time, it’s due for me to do well. I’m not really afraid to talk about it, maybe before I was like ‘Oh we’ll just see what happens, take it day by day,’ but I think now I need to step it up here in the Slams. Also because it’s so many points too, it would help my rankings so much. … I think if I can do well this week I definitely want to take that momentum and carry it into the US Open.”