Photo : Tyler Anderson/Tennis Canada
Jessica Pegula stands in stark contrast with most of the WTA elite, who tend to amass winner’s trophies before their 22nd birthday. And when it’s not titles, it’s a place in the Top 10.
The Buffalo-native was 21 when she started winning matches on the tour. She earned her first WTA crown at 25, in 2019.
Today, her versatility enables her to excel in singles and doubles. At the Qatar Open last week, she and Coco Gauff were unbeatable in doubles. In the singles final the following day, Jessica fell to World No.1 Iga Swiatek.
Read also: Pegula wins the doubles in Toronto
Pegula currently sits at No.3 in singles and No.4 in doubles. Versatile, indeed.
When you look at it, her career is nothing like her doubles partner’s. Coco Gauff was deemed a tennis prodigy at 14 and made the Top 10 at 18. Jessica, on the other hand, was 28 when she finally hit the bigtime.
Tenacity above all
Jessica Pegula embodies everything you’d want to teach young players: will, determination and perseverance.
And that impression was confirmed by former Canadian pro Marie-Ève Pelletier, who competed with her in singles and doubles and now follows her as a tennis analyst.
Watch: Pegula’s Champion Press Conference in Toronto
“She’s unpretentious and very professional in her approach on the tour. And that’s why she’s been so successful. She’s never stopped trying to find solutions. It’s not surprising that she’s improved so much,” Marie-Ève explained.
I thought back to September 2018 in Québec, when Marie-Ève and I were preparing for the semifinals of the WTA 250 National Bank Cup. She walked onto the court to reconnect with Jessica, and I got to witness their reunion.
In Québec, the American defeated Kristyna Pliskova (No.99), Ons Jabeur (No.116), Petra Martic (No.38) and Sofia Kenin (No.67), in that order, before losing to French veteran Pauline Parmentier (No.69) in the final. After starting off the season at No.624, she’d orchestrated a fantastic run that pushed her up nearly 500 spots in the rankings to No.141.
The rest is history, as Jessica then patiently pursued her quest all the way to No.3, a career high, on October 23, 2022.
A great friendship
Despite running into each other often at tournaments, Jessica and Marie-Ève collided only once, back in May 2011, at a W60 in Carson, California. Pegula, then 17, won in three sets (2-6, 6-4, 6-3).
Read also: Pegula reaches Toronto semifinals
In doubles, the two grappled a lot more. In 2012 in Dothan, Alabama, Jessica and Eugenie Bouchard vanquished the all-Canadian pair of Pelletier and Sharon Fichman.
After battling it out on both sides of the net, Pelletier and Pegula eventually joined forces and made it as far as the semis in Las Vegas in September of that same year—an achievement that really cemented their friendship.
Passion before privilege
Terry Pegula has believed his daughter could be No.1 ever since she was little—a prediction we’ve all heard before, especially coming from a young player’s parent. But as it turns out, he wasn’t so wide off the mark. In a year or two, she may just make it to the very top.
While we’re on the topic of Terry Pegula, you may already know he’s an American billionaire who owns the Buffalo Bills (NFL) and Buffalo Sabres (NHL).
Terry Pegula and family, including Jessica on the far left (Photo: AP).
During the ten years she played smaller tournaments with unsubstantial prizemoney, Jessica never had to worry about making ends meet. Marie-Ève remembers a conversation they had at an event in 2011, when Pegula made the decision to turn pro rather than play college tennis.
Watch: Pegula Press Conference in Toronto
“Frankly and unassumingly, she said: ‘I have a different privilege than most. Financially, if I want to go back to school later, tuition fees won’t be a problem. It’s always been my dream to turn pro, and that’s what I really want to do.’ So seeing her keeping at it, training day after day and devoting herself to her passion without wavering when she could stop whenever she wants is what really impresses me,” Marie-Ève said.
Now and then
I asked Marie-Ève how 2012 Jessica compares to 2023 Jessica.
“She’s obviously made huge progress with her footwork. She definitely didn’t have the best mobility, so she was under more pressure to win points quickly, in three shots. Dominating long rallies was more complicated for her. But in the end, what serves her best is her mental game. She’s astonishingly calm. She delivers the same level of play, no matter the moment.”
So, the curious case is actually quite fascinating. And inspiring—which is exactly what Jessica Pegula has become. A role model for her fellow players and far beyond.
NBO souvenir photo
Had your fill of winter? Dreaming of a heatwave? Here’s something that should tide you over.
On a scorching afternoon on August 6, 2022, tennis fans took turns at the cooling stations set up at IGA Stadium.
Stay strong. Summer’s right around the corner!