Defending Citi Open champ Jessica Pegula rolls in first spherical

Remark

Warming up earlier than her first match as the highest seed and defending champion on the 2022 Citi Open on Monday, Jessica Pegula, the highest-ranked American lady in skilled tennis, seemed the consummate professional — composed on the courtroom and gregarious off it.

All of it confirmed throughout her 6-2, 6-2 first-round victory over D.C.’s Hailey Baptiste. Although Baptiste, in her first match again since injuring her ankle on the French Open, pushed the world No. 7 laborious to start with of every set, Pegula calmly demonstrated her clean serve, highly effective return and longevity, selecting Baptiste aside because the video games bought longer and the day bought hotter.

“I put on a lot of pressure and elongated a lot of her service games, and I know from personal experience that it’s really tough to hold,” Pegula mentioned. “It can definitely take a toll, physically and mentally, and as it got a little hot out there, I was able to move a little better.”

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Three years in the past, there was a distinct Pegula vying to contend in D.C. In 2019, the earlier time the Citi Open held a WTA occasion, Pegula’s first and solely WTA Tour singles win got here at Rock Creek Park Tennis Middle and helped outline her burgeoning profession.

That yr appeared to be a combined bag for the Buffalo native. Her first entrance to the WTA prime 100 led to a top-75 berth when she upset then-No. 12 Anastasija Sevastova on the Charleston Open, however these highs have been soured by first-round exits on the French Open and Wimbledon — her first main-draw appearances at both Grand Slam.

And on the courtroom, Pegula was coping with an identification disaster. She recalled the criticisms she acquired again then — of showing adverse or as if “she didn’t want to be there” throughout matches — so she tried to counteract that by artificially infusing fist pumps, wild maneuvers and different unnatural bursts of power into her sport.

By her personal admission, she wasn’t enjoying how she needed to.

“I would be too energetic or try to be too much, then I would be exhausted because I’d be wasting all this energy doing all this stuff,” Pegula mentioned. “And naturally I’m not really like that.”

Pegula determined to take full management of her profession. She employed a brand new coach, David Witt, who was recent off an extended stint teaching Venus Williams. She started planning her personal coaching regimens and reserving her personal trainers. For a time, she was even her personal agent, scheduling her personal journey and registering herself in tournaments.

Within the midst of that course of, Pegula had a realization — whether or not she was returning a serve or reserving a flight to France, she was nonetheless Jessica Pegula.

“That [process] let me not think about who I am on court,” Pegula defined, “because now I was like, ‘Oh, I’m responsible for my own career.’ And that’s, I think, how I always wanted it to be.”

The 2019 Citi Open was her first week and first event with Witt as her coach. Throughout a routine apply main as much as the occasion, Witt mentioned one thing that caught with Pegula.

“There’s no reason you can’t win this tournament,” Witt informed her.

With a recent outlook on her profession and a brand new coach in her nook, Pegula discovered Witt was proper — there was no cause she couldn’t declare her first WTA title. And with a straight-sets defeat of Camila Giorgi within the remaining, that’s precisely what she did.

Throughout her trophy ceremony, her miniature Australian shepherd, Maddie, dashed onto the courtroom and embraced her, creating a permanent picture of the flip Pegula’s profession was taking.

“It kind of changed starting that week, trying to get better every day but also being like, ‘There’s no reason you can’t be at the top of the game,’ ” she mirrored. “And now here we are, a few years later, and I’m at my highest ranking — top 10 in the world.”

It’s the renewed Pegula who arrived in D.C. this previous weekend because the defending Citi Open champion — making three Grand Slam quarterfinals up to now two years and reaching the apex of American tennis on the comparatively senior enjoying age of 28. And although Pegula mentioned her canine wouldn’t be making the journey to the capital, the modifications of the previous three years have been on full show Monday.

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Criticisms of her supposed negativity and nonchalance have taken, in her expertise, an entire 180.

“People come up to me, they’re like, ‘Oh, my gosh, you’re so calm and you’re so confident and you have such a great attitude about you,’ ” she mentioned. “And I just laugh because it was so the opposite for so long and it was so frustrating to hear.”

And it confirmed on the courtroom. Within the face of a hostile crowd rooting for a hometown hero, Pegula by no means seemed flustered or overwhelmed towards Baptiste however saved her type tight and her face measured. She solely appeared to enhance because the match wore on, utilizing every lengthy deuce and break level as a approach to acquire the benefit.

“It was tough [for Baptiste], coming back from injury,” mentioned Frances Tiafoe, a Hyattsville native and No. 27 within the ATP rankings, who was watching the match from the stands. “Pegula’s a great friend of mine, top 10 in the world, and is playing some of the best tennis of her life. It was always going to be a tough contest.”

Pegula issued solely the lightest of fist pumps after every hard-won level, and solely in victory did the world’s greatest American let a comfortable smile creep onto her face.

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