AUCKLAND, New Zealand -- Jessica Pegula put a halt to the singles run of Caroline Wozniacki in the Dane’s penultimate tournament, as the American overcame the No.5 seed, 3-6, 6-4, 6-0 to reach the final of the ASB Classic on Sunday.
"It’s definitely one of my bigger wins, playing someone of that stature, who’s also retiring," Pegula told the media, after her victory. "I’m glad I got to play her, and I’m glad I got to come out with the win. It is definitely up there win-wise, especially to go to a final."
In the first meeting between the two players, Pegula went up an early break in each of the three sets, and though Wozniacki was able to fight her way back to claim the opener, the American triumphed in the final two sets to claim victory after one hour and 53 minutes.
"First set, I thought, could have gone either way, just a couple close games," said Pegula. "Then I was able to get the momentum in the third, which is kind of what I wanted, because I know she’s a tough person to play for three sets."
Pegula finds herself in the third WTA singles final of her career, and her first since she won her maiden WTA singles title at the Citi Open in August of last year. The World No.82 played a strong, aggressive match, with a positive differential of 33 winners to 32 unforced errors.
"I thought I played smart, I thought I was moving pretty well, I scrambled out a couple of points," Pegula stated. "I thought I was picking my shots well, and kind of going off of based on how I was feeling. If things were clicking, I would go for it; if not, I would play conservative."
Former World No.1 Wozniacki, twice a finalist at the ASB Classic in 2015 and 2018, saw her 34 unforced errors negate her 17 winners, and leaves Auckland with only one singles event to go in her storied career: the Australian Open, where she won her Grand Slam title just two years ago.
Despite her loss to Pegula, Wozniacki will still contest a final on Sunday: she has teamed with her good friend Serena Williams to reach Sunday’s doubles championship round.
An error-strewn opening game by Wozniacki to start the tilt handed the American an immediate break in the encounter, but the former World No.1 quickly righted the ship, breaking back straight away after a wide miscue by Pegula while down break point.
Pegula, who was finding excellent spots with her backhand, fended off three break points in a protracted game en route to 2-2. As the set wore on, though, the average rally length started to increase, and Wozniacki won those points more often than not. The Dane took command of the opener by breaking for 4-2, after a Pegula forehand on break point clipped the netcord and flew wide.
At 5-2, Pegula held serve at love to keep herself in contention in the first set, but Wozniacki summoned two stellar serves in the first two points of the next game, eventually bringing herself to triple set point. A long forehand by Pegula on the first of those chances gave the Dane the one-set lead.
The second set also started with Pegula up a break, as the American found a backhand winner to claim an early 2-0 lead. Pegula’s aggressive play pushed her through a love service hold to consolidate as she blasted her way to a 3-0 advantage.
Once again, though, Wozniacki pulled her way to parity in the set. The Dane hit a beautiful backhand winner down the line to reach break point at 3-1, and then climbed back on serve after a backhand miscue by Pegula. A love hold to reach 4-4 put Wozniacki two games away from a straight-set victory.
However, the American was undaunted as the set progressed, and put away a number of points in the forecourt to hold for 5-4 and put the pressure on Wozniacki. There, Pegula found ferocious returning to queue up two set points. A backhand winner by Wozniacki saved the first, but on the second, Pegula polished off a rally with a backhand volley to level the affair at one set apiece.
After her second-set fightback failed to pay dividends, Wozniacki quickly found herself facing yet another deficit in the decider. Pegula opened the third set with a love service hold, then took control in the next game, breaking for 2-0 behind heavy, powerful returning.
From that point forward, it was smooth sailing for the American, as her winner count steadily increased and flummoxed the Dane. Pegula never faced a break point in the final set as she eased to a 5-0 lead, then finished off the bagel on her second match point with a ferocious forehand winner.
Pegula will now see a fellow American across the net from her in Sunday’s singles final: legendary top seed, 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams, who defeated No.3-seeded teenager Amanda Anisimova in the second semifinal.
"I was just telling my coach, every single person asks me, ‘Have you played Serena?’" Pegula laughed. "And I’m like, ‘No, I haven’t.’ Now I can say yes, so my credibility goes up! Way, way up. Everybody will be happy to hear that."
"I think it’s pretty cool to play her in the final," Pegula added. "No matter what, I’m going to have that picture with her and with the trophies."
"I was definitely a huge fan of both the Williams sisters growing up, especially for American tennis, and obviously she’s the greatest player of all time, so there’s a ton of respect there," said Pegula.