Interview: Persistent Pegula seeking risk and reward

The supremely consistent American excelled at Roland-Garros 2022 with a second week ticket in both singles and doubles. What about 2023?

Jessica Pegula / Roland-Garros 2022©Nicolas Gouhier / FFT
 - Alex Sharp

We all struggle after a long day at work, needing an outlet to blow off steam.

Rewind to the US Open quarter-finals and Jessica Pegula had been narrowly nudged aside 6-3, 7-6(4) by eventual champion Iga Swiatek.

Cracking a smile and a handful of witty remarks, the American faced the post-match media swigging on a can of beer. The iconic footage buzzed worldwide in a strongly relatable moment for most viewers.

The 29-year-old always reflects with a level head, gives compelling answers. This was just one example of why Jessica Pegula is so popular with fellow competitors and fans. 

"I've always had, I think, a good, kind of dry sense of humour. But it's fun, I think that people see those moments as just maybe myself," Pegula told from Madrid.

"I didn't think I'd get as crazy of a reaction as I did. So, I think it was cool to see people kind of appreciate that even as athletes, we're still human, like everyday people in a way.

"I like to show that with my humour. I think it's important to show your personality because I think that's what attracts fans. I think it's also easier to just be yourself, in person and on social media."

Alongside a penchant for croissants, Roland-Garros holds a special place in the world No.3's heart when she reflects back on memories in Paris.

A singles quarter-final showing and doubles final journey partnering Coco Gauff served up a 2022 milestone fortnight. Pegula and Gauff bounced off each other, gaining energy and belief from their compatriot during the impressive juggling between the two disciplines.

"It was the first time I made a Grand Slam final, singles or doubles. So that was really special. It was awesome because she made the singles final as well," recalled the American.

"It was a long two weeks for both of us, but I think it was just amazing making it to the final in doubles, that was the biggest result of us together as a team. 

"I think it was just a really fun, special two weeks of having success myself and then getting to watch her also have a very successful tournament. It just felt like a rewarding two weeks for the both of us."

Within the past few seasons Pegula has become entrenched in the Top 10 and has transformed into a major contender with pure, 100 per cent hard work. 2022 witnessed the 29-year-old collect her most prestigious title to date, a maiden W1000 glory in Guadalajara, which was complimented by three Grand Slam singles quarter-finals.

Into 2023 and the forward-thinking world No.3 has already accumulated three semi-final showings, an Australian Open last eight spot and a Doha final loss at the hands of Swiatek. Hardly anyone can match JP's consistency.

"Winning Guadalajara was obviously a big, big step for me. I wanted to win a title last year and I managed to do it on the last tournament of the calendar year, but going into this year everything resets," declared Pegula.

"I think my goals are always kind of the same, to play every match the same way, to go out and just win the match in front of me, but at the same time having the confidence knowing I can go in and win tournaments as well.

"Hopefully I showed that last year but I think maybe a little bit more confidence in the bigger moments this year will really help me."

Lifting the Guadalajara trophy aloft in October, Pegula dedicated the second-career title triumph to her mother Kim, who she credits for her renowned calm, cool, and collected persona.

With on court memories popping in 2022, off court was a different story. Three months ago, Pegula published a raw and personal essay in Player's Tribune, revealing that her mother had suffered a major cardiac arrest just prior to Wimbledon at the end of last June.

The "miracle" survival was a huge relief for the world No.3, managing to still compete in the upper echelon of tennis, whilst dealing with an extremely difficult family time.

"Suddenly, I went from 'Let’s celebrate top 10 in the world' to 'Do I need to start thinking about my career after tennis a lot sooner than I thought? Does my dad and family need help? Maybe I should just go back to school and work for the family,'" wrote Pegula.

"I am 28 and I take pride in being able to handle every situation thrown at me, but this was A LOT."

This mental resilience has been vital for the top-ranked American to remain amongst the very elite in a star-studded, versatile field in the women's game. 

A 'big three' are emerging and Pegula is determined to have her say in the major conversations.

"You're seeing a lot of matchups later in the tournaments of semis and finals with especially with Iga, (Elena) Rybakina and (Aryna) Sabalenka," mused the 29-year-old.

"I think that's really cool that we're starting to see those types of rivalries per se, at the end of events, and I think it just shows that the top players are playing to their ranking and are showing that they're the top players in the world.

"At the same time, it's fun having the depth that we have in women's tennis where someone can still surprise you and even someone like Petra (Kvitova) who won Miami, hasn't won a 1000 in a little while, more of a veteran of the tour come in and still beat everyone else, I think is pretty cool.

"It just shows you the depth in between the ages and the players and the rankings. It can be anyone's title on any given day."

Jessica Pegula / Roland-Garros 2022©Cédric Lecocq / FFT

Back to Paris and Pegula is fine tuning on the clay – currently in Madrid – eager to break new Grand Slam ground on Court Philippe Chatrier.

The American, down 2-5 in their head-to-head despite a United Cup victory against Swiatek in January, would welcome missing the world No.1 until the trophy showdown.

"Of course. I would love to go further than I did last year. I think that's going to be very tough," stated Pegula.

"Last year also played Iga who I think is probably the toughest person to be there on that surface at that tournament. So it would be nice to not play her in the quarter-finals.

"I think keep being aggressive. For me serve and return are really important too. So I think as long as I can focus on those I usually play pretty well. 

"When I get to those bigger moments, I think just being comfortable being there now and maybe taking some more risks and having a little bit more belief."