By Chris Oddo | @TheFanChild | Monday August 24, 2020
Buffalo, New York native Jessica Pegula has persevered through numerous setbacks, and now she is catching fire as the US Open nears.
Photo Source: WTT
Jessica Pegula’s journey since turning pro over a decade ago has been a long and arduous one, but it appears that all the hard work and dedication that the New York native has put in is finally paying off.
Pegula has always been talented. Always had that potential. That pop and sizzle in her game that make us think: She could be a Top 50 player. But always something kept her from climbing the rankings and taking her place among the game’s elite.
That something? Injuries…
Twice Pegula missed major time due to injuries, in 2014 and 2017, and had to watch her ranking plummet just as she was closing in on the Top 100. She had a knee injury that took her off the tour for a year and a half, just after she had made a career-high ranking just outside the Top 100 in 2013. Then she had hip surgery in 2017 after climbing back inside the Top 150, and saw her ranking drop again to well outside the Top 750.
But Pegula persevered and finally cracked the Top 100 early in 2019. She would go on and win her first title last summer at the Citi Open, and though she sits nearly 30 spots off of the career-high ranking of 55 that she set after that title in D.C. there is a feeling that Pegula’s best tennis is still in front of her.
— Howard Fendrich (@HowardFendrich) August 4, 2019
The 26-year-old has knocked off Jennifer Brady and Amanda Anisimova in back-to-back matches to reach the round of 16 at the Western and Southern Open, and she believes it’s time for her to make some noise at the Slams.
After winning her Grand Slam main draw debut at the 2015 US Open, Pegula has lost six straight at the majors. She says it’s about that time that streak ended.
“I really want to do well in Slams and I think it’s time, it’s due for me to do well,” she said. “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.”
Pegula says her movement and her serve have been the key to unlocking her game of late. With coach David Witt, the former coach of Venus Williams, in her corner, she’s making steady improvement in that department. She said the prolonged quarantine that came as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, and the long layoff that went with it, allowed her to fine-tune her physicality even more.
“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,” she said. “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.”
Pegula hits a big ball and attacks well with the forehand. She says she’s always been a natural returner but she’s gotten even better with Witt as her coach because he has harped her about it.
With all elements of her game working so well, it seems that the only thing she needs to do to ensure a breakthrough result at a Slam and a Top 50 ranking is maintain her health.
Pegula said on Sunday that she has learned a lot from the injuries of the past and improved her training and injury prevention. These days, she trains as hard as ever, but now she does it smarter.
“I always worked hard but I think now I am just so much smarter,” she said. “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.”
2020 has been a difficult year for so many inside the sport of tennis, but it could turn out to be a special one for Jessica Pegula. Not only does she have the game to keep climbing the rankings, she also has the wisdom that comes from her hard lessons, and the realization that what does not kill her will only make her stronger.