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Jessica Pegula stays hot in 2021 with Naomi Osaka upset, Rome quarterfinal run

Arthur Kapetanakis | May 14, 2021

May is Asian-American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. To celebrate, is taking a look at Asian-Americans past, present and future—those who have helped to shape the game, and those who could soon cement their place in it.


Jessica Pegula reached her third WTA 1000 quarterfinal in the last 10 months—and the third of her career—at the Italian Open this week, where she upset world No. 2 Naomi Osaka in the second round. The 27-year-old American defeated the reigning US Open and Australian Open champion, 7-6, 6-2, in Rome to notch the fifth Top 10 win of both her 2021 season and her pro career, including three wins over Karolina Pliskova in three consecutive March events.


While Pegula fell to Petra Martic in the Rome quarterfinals, she is set to enter the WTA's Top 30 for the first time with the result. With Olympic places determined by the WTA Rankings following Roland-Garros in June, Pegula is firmly in contention for one of up to four American places in the women's singles competition. She will likely need to jump Alison Riske and Madison Keys to join Sofia Kenin, Serena Williams and Jennifer Brady among the Top 4 U.S. women in order to qualify for the Tokyo Games—but with no points to defend at the French Open, Pegula has an opportunity to make up ground.


Here's more on the surging American.

The Jessica Pegula File

Age: 27

Birthplace: Buffalo, N.Y.

Current Rank: No. 31

Career-High Rank: No. 31 (May 2021)

Best US Open Finish: Round 3 (2020)


The Baseline


- Pegula has been one of the hottest players on the WTA since the tour's return from the COVID suspension last August. She posted a 7-2 record during the New York double—including a quarterfinal run as a qualifier at the Western & Southern Open and a third-round showing at the US Open—before starting of the 2021 season with a run to the Australian Open quarterfinals, her career-best major result. In reaching the last eight in Melbourne, she defeated No. 5 seed Elina Svitolina for her first WTA Top 10 win, taking out the Ukrainian in three Round-of-16 sets. Pegula also knocked out former world No. 1 and 2020 US Open finalist Victoria Azarenka in Round 1, dismissing the No. 12 seed in straights.


- Pegula was recently named the Team USA Player of the Month for March, a month in which she went 12-3 in singles play and reached the semifinals of the WTA 500 in Doha, Qatar, the quarterfinals at the WTA 1000 in Dubai and the Round of 16 at the WTA 1000 Miami Open. She defeated Pliskova in each of those three events, dropping just one set in their three meetings.


- With a 21-8 record through the first five months of 2021, Pegula sits at No. 10 in the WTA singles race for the calendar year, level on points with No. 8 Karolina Muchova and No. 9 Svitolina. The Top 8 in the race will qualify for the year-end WTA Finals in Shenzhen, China.


- The 2019 Citi Open in Washington, D.C. brought Pegula's first WTA title, with the victory coming shortly after the American linked up with her current coach, David Witt. While the pair have yet to claim a second trophy together, Witt is confident that his charge's consistency will pay off soon in that regard.


"I'd much rather her be consistent, just keep knocking on the door," Witt said of her recent results. "And if she continues to play like she's playing, she's going to win tournaments. I'd rather it be like that than win a tournament and then you lose in the first round or second round. So she's in it every week."


Read More: Coach David Witt on Jessica Pegula


- Pegula has also been active on the doubles tour this season, posting a 7-8 overall record with partners Madison Keys, Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Asia Muhammad. She is currently at a career-high of No. 56 in the WTA doubles rankings, with a Dubai semifinal run with Mattek-Sands the highlight of her doubles season.

Jessica Pegula at the 2019 Citi Open in Washington, D.C, where she won her first WTA title shortly after teaming up with coach David Witt.

- Pegula's mother, Kim Pegula, is the president of the NFL's Buffalo Bills and the NHL's Buffalo Sabres. A South Korean-born American, Kim also owns the Bills along with her husband (and Pegula's father), Terry Pegula. The couple owns Pegula Sports and Entertainment Properties, where Kim is the CEO and president.


They Said It!


"It kind of just gradually happens, and all of a sudden the confidence is there where you feel comfortable," Pegula told after beating Osaka in Rome, discussing her recent matches on some of the biggest stages tennis has to offer. "You can feel the difference of your mindset and how you're thinking, how you go about things. I think I have adjusted really well, because a lot of these big tournaments I have never played before, and it's all a new experience, which is also a way to make it fun and make it exciting."


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