A few weeks ago, Jessica Pegula was musing about her busy fall schedule.
The 27-year-old American discussed her upcoming wedding, set for later this month, and the rest of her 2021 schedule. Pegula said she was looking forward to Indian Wells and added coyly, “Who knows, if things work out, maybe the year-end finals.”
It sounded like a throwaway line but, suddenly, it’s actually a possibility.
Pegula, the first player into the BNP Paribas quarterfinals Tuesday with a comprehensive 6-1, 6-1 victory over a clearly compromised Elina Svitolina, is only a match win or two from throwing her Buffalo Bills hat into the ring for the WTA finals next month in Guadalajara, Mexico. She entered Indian Wells at No.14 in the Porsche Race to the WTA Finals with 2,286 points. With a victory over Victoria Azarenka on Wednesday, she would guarantee herself 390 points by making the semifinals. A win there would be worth at least 650 points, with the possibility of 1,000 with a title.
With the early departures of No.5 Maria Sakkai, No.6 Garbiñe Muguruza, No.7 Iga Swiatek and No.10 Elise Mertens – there’s a bit of an opening for Pegula, among several others.
“Whether I was getting married or not,” Pegula said, “I made the decision to get here early, got a lot of practice days in, to really enjoy it, have fun and not leave the year on a sour note of, `I’m tired, I just want to go get married.’
“That would have been the easy way out. I wanted to challenge myself. So, why not take advantage?”
Good advice for those quarterfinalists still in play for Guadalajara.
Here are your two Wednesday quarterfinals from the bottom half of the draw.
No.19 Jessica Pegula vs. No.27 Victoria Azarenka
At the start of the tournament, Azarenka’s 12-player section included No.7 Petra Kvitova, No. 11 Simona Halep and No.17 Emma Raducanu – major champions all.
Aliaksandra Sasnovich did most of the heavy lifting, taking care of the 18-year-old Raducanu, who came in fresh off her US Open title, and Halep, while Azarenka defeated Kvitova. On Tuesday, Azarenka beat Sasnovich 6-3, 6-4 to raise her round-of-16 record at Indian Wells to a sterling 6-0.
The 32-year-old mother from Belarus is a two-time champion at Indian Wells (2012 and 2016). Five years later, she’s encouraged by her best effort in three appearances since. This is Azarenka’s fifth quarterfinal of the year, but that’s leavened by five walkovers after a series of injuries.
Victoria Azarenka rounds out the bottom half quarterfinalists, ending Aliaksandra Sasnovich’s run with a 63 64 win.— WTA Insider (@WTA_insider) October 13, 2021
 Azarenka vs.  Pegula
Rogeres vs.  Ostapenko#BNPPO21 pic.twitter.com/XD0N7IUYDS
It took Pegula a little over an hour to beat Svitolina for the second time this year. That result underlined her remarkable success this season against elite players. Going back to the Australian Open, Pegula is 7-3 versus Top 10 players, with four wins over Karolina Pliskova, two against Svitolina and one over Naomi Osaka in Rome.
“I definitely think that coming out of COVID, I said, `I’m going to really work on my fitness, I want to be healthy, I’m going to want to come out of here ready to go.’
“I got to train in COVID times, and I got to do what I needed to do in Florida, the restrictions not being that hard. I think that mentality really kick-started a new belief.”
Pegula came into Indian Wells with one career win, but has cobbled together an impressive run. After a bye, she took out Sloane Stephens in the second round and qualifier Jasmine Paolini (in 58 minutes) in the third.
Seven of her 12 career quarterfinal appearances have come this season.
Head-to-head: 1-1. Pegula won a first-round match this year at the Australian Open, and later Azarenka took a three-set quarterfinal win in a Berlin. In between, Azarenka granted a walkover in the Madrid round of 32.
No.24 Jelena Ostapenko vs. Shelby Rogers
Neither of these players will be lacking in confidence.
With the gritty courts at Indian Wells playing with a speed similar to the red clay Of Roland Garros, it’s no wonder Ostapenko, the surprise 2017 French Open champion is in sparkling form.
On Tuesday, she took down No.2 seed and 2020 Roland Garros winner Iga Swiatek 6-4, 6-3.
“I didn’t give her any chances to play, because I think I was playing very aggressive and took the time away from her so she couldn’t do much against me,” Ostapenko said afterward. “I was thinking too much before, and now I’m just trying to enjoy the moment and just try not to think about anything.
“If I play well, I’m a dangerous player and I can, I think, beat anyone.”
Of course, based on recent results, the No.44-ranked Rogers feels the same way.
Rogers triumphed over No.23 Leylah Fernandez 2-6, 6-1, 7-6 (4) in a tense match that ran more than two-and-a-half hours.
“I think she’s loving the conditions here,” Rogers said of Ostapenko. “She’s doing well in singles and took me out in doubles already, so looking for a little revenge, I suppose.
“She’s playing consistent and aggressive and serving well, from what I saw. I’ll have to go watch her match again, because it was going on at a similar time. Do a little scouting and get myself ready and excited for a little night tennis tomorrow.”
After losing to World No.1 Ashleigh Barty twice in Australia early in the season, Rogers stunned Barty in the third round of the US Open – in a third-set tiebreaker. This is the first Indian Wells quarterfinal for the 28-year-old American.
Ostapenko, still only 24, is enjoying her best tournament at Indian Wells. She defeated Hsieh Su-Wei in straight sets in the second round, but needed three sets to get past Yulia Putintseva. She’s made two finals this year, winning in Eastbourne and collecting the runner-up trophy in Luxembourg.
“She’s a great player,” Ostapenko said of Rogers, “but try to focus more on myself and play my game. I think if I play well my game, then I’m a dangerous player.”
Head-to-head: 2-0, Ostapenko. Both came on clay (Rome 2017, Charleston 2019).