By Jane Voigt
Washington — Jessica Pegula was steady, contained and methodical in winning her first WTA title at Citi Open tennis Sunday. It didn’t take her long, either. The Floridian crushed an erratic Camila Giorgi 6-2, 6-2, in an hour.
“It’s been extremely gratifying,” Pegula began. “This is what you work for. It’s sounds cliche but the journey makes it all that much sweeter. I’ve worked really hard. So to push through this week and push myself to be stronger [than] I thought I was at times really makes it amazing. It’s exciting.”
Pegula is lucky to have made it past the second round, where she met 17-year-old Iga Swiatek. Up 5-2, then 5-4 and 40-love in the opening set, she lost the set 7-5. She said she wasn’t feeling well that day yet persevered to win in three. In the next round against Lauren Davis, the trend continued. Pegula won the first set, then went down a break in the second. “I knew if I could get it back, try to get through the second set, it would be a lot better than playing a third. That was a big motivation for me.”
Pegula’s strategy at the onset of the final was clear: keep shots deep in the court, concentrate on quick and accurate returns of serve, and stay out of longer rallies with Giorgi because she can hit winners from anywhere on.
“She plays so fast and quick I didn’t want her to dictate the points,” she began. “I tried to use my legs and try to be ready for every single shot. But I wanted to do that to her, as well, and not give her time to dictate points. I’m aggressive and have no problem when people are hitting hard at me, but it was definitely part of my game plan to not give her too much time to think.”
During the awards’ presentation her Miniature Australian Sheppard Maddie, or Madeleine, came on court, which Pegula had requested. She also brought the dog to her press conference, which elicited ooohs and aaaahs from reporters.
Maddie wore a tournament credential on her collar, which skyrocketed the cuteness scale.
“The volunteers made her one,” she said. “After one of my matches she had one and they changed it to ‘K-9 champion’.”
Her win today is particularly poignant because this title is her first-ever, not only her first WTA career title. She had never won a junior title or Challenger title … nothing. She has also spent more time off court than on over the last couple years due to injuries to her hip and knee.
“There was definitely a point I was thinking about it,” she said, when asked if she’d ever contemplated leaving the tour. “I lost in the finals of Newport. I lost in the finals of Quebec last year. I’ve lost in singles finals in a couple Challengers when I was younger, so it’s always been in the back of my mind.”
This week, though, felt different to Pegula. She said to herself that she was going to out there and win. “I felt confident in that.”
Pegula is a cheerleader for women’s tennis in America. She’s acutely aware that young players are attracting more fans, which is good for tennis. The cohesiveness of the group has inspired Jessica, even if these 15-17 year olds make her seem an elder, when she’s only 25.
“Definitely I think it pushes everyone, whether you’re older or younger, to know it’s possible and you can do it,” she said yesterday in press. “It’s inspiring to see because I did pretty well when I was young, too. I got injuries. You lose confidence, you lose a little belief in yourself. I like practicing and playing doubles with them; it’s a good experience.”
Although the 7,500 capacity Stadium Court was only about half full, fans appreciated what they were witnessing: an inaugural career title to a well-deserving woman who had fought through too many downs to then come back up the ladder and demonstrate her strength of character and superior tennis skills.
“I thought they were great today. I definitely felt their presence on big moments and chances today,” she said. “But I was also focused and not too hyped up or calm, which is always what you want to get in but is hard to do.”
How will she celebrate this once-in-a-tennis-career moment?
“I don’t know,” she said. “I’m actually flying home tonight. I guess Maddy and I will have a party. Pop a champagne bottle.”