City Open champion Jessica Pegula drives in the first round


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Opinion

As the top seed and defending champion warms up before her first match at the 2022 Citi Open on Monday, Jessica Pegula, one of the top tier of professional tennis, put her consummate pro on the court.

All of this was demonstrated by a 6-2, 6-2 win over Hailey Baptist of DC in the first round. Although Baptiste pushed the world No. 7 hard at the start of each set in her first match since injuring her ankle at the French Open, Pegula showed her calm serve, powerful returns and longevity, picking Baptiste apart at the end of the match. The longer and hotter the day became.

“I’ve put a lot of pressure and extended a lot of her service games, and I know from my own experience that it’s very difficult to hold,” Pegula said. “It can definitely take a physical and mental toll, and when it’s a little warmer out there, I’m able to move a little better.”

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Three years ago, there was a separate Pegula competition to compete in DC.

That year seemed like a mixed bag for the Buffalo native. Her first entry into the WTA top 100 led to a top-75 finish when she upset No. 12 Anastasija Sevastova at the Charleston Open, but those highs were marred by first-round exits at the French Open and Wimbledon – both of which were her first main-draw appearances at a Grand Slam.

And on the court, Pegula was dealing with an identity crisis. She remembers the criticism she received at the time — that she looked negative or that she “didn’t want to be there” during matches — so she artificially tried to counter it by injecting herself with fist pumps, wild moves and other unnatural bursts of energy. Game.

By her own admission, she wasn’t playing like she wanted.

“I get too energetic or try to be too much, then I get tired because I’m wasting all this energy doing all these things,” Pegula said. “And naturally I’m not like that.”

Pegula decided to take full control of her work. Venus hired a new trainer, David Witt, who had long been new to Williams. She began planning her own training regimens and booking her own trainers. For a while, she was her own agent, planning her own travel schedule and booking herself into tournaments.

In the midst of this process, Pegula had one realization – whether she was returning service or booking a flight to France, she was still Jessica Pegula.

“That [process] Pegula explained that I shouldn’t think about who I am in court, because now it’s like, ‘Oh, I’m responsible for my own work.’ And that’s, I think, how I’ve always wanted it to be,” he said.

It was the first week of the 2019 City Open and her first tournament with her coach Wit. During a routine practice leading up to the event, Witt said something that stuck with Pegula.

“There’s no reason why you shouldn’t win this race,” Witt told her.

With a fresh perspective on her career and a new coach, Pegula found that Witt was right – there was no reason why she couldn’t claim her first WTA title. And that’s exactly what Camila Giorgi did, with a straight-sets defeat in the final.

During her trophy ceremony, her little Australian shepherd, Maddie, came onto the court and embraced her, creating a lasting image of the transformation Pegula’s career is taking.

“From that week on, it’s changed to trying to improve every day, but ‘there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be at the top of your game,'” she reflected. “And now here we are, a few years later, and I’m at my peak – top 10 in the world.

Arriving in D.C. last weekend as the City Open champion is a rejuvenated Pegula — who has made three Grand Slam quarterfinals in the past two years and is relatively at the peak of her 28-game career in American tennis. And though Pegula her dog spoke. He wouldn’t have made the trip to the capital, where the changes of the past three years were on full display on Monday.

Before her comeback from Venus Williams, Halep pushed through in Washington.

Criticisms of negativity and non-presentation have, in her experience, taken a complete 180.

“People come up to me and they’re like, ‘Oh, my God, you’re so calm and so sure and you have such an attitude about you.’ “And I only laugh because it’s been so contradictory for so long and so annoying to hear.”

And it showed on the court. In front of a hostile crowd that based her hometown hero, Pegula didn’t seem upset or shocked at Baptiste, but kept her demeanor firm and her face measured. She only seemed to improve as the match ended, using each long deuce and break point to gain an advantage.

“It was tough. [for Baptiste]He’s back from injury,” said Francis Tiafoe, a Hyattsville native and ranked No. 27 in the ATP rankings, who was watching the match from the stands. “My best friend Pegula, top 10 in the world, and she’s playing the best tennis of her life. It will always be a tough competition. “

Pegula only let out the simplest of fist pumps after each strong winning point, and just in victory the world’s best American let a soft smile slip across her face.

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