Jessica Pegula endured a rollercoaster start to the season, but closed the spring hard-court swing with momentum. The 28-year-old American rose to a new career-high ranking of No.13 after making her third WTA 1000 semifinal last week at the Miami Open. Combined with a second Australian Open quarterfinal in January and two doubles titles, Pegula continues to build off a strong 2021 campaign.
Pegula joined the WTA Insider Podcast from this week's Credit One Charleston Open, where she is set to kick off her clay season. She reflects on her start to the season and weighs in on new World No.1 Iga Swiatek. Pegula also discusses her new role on the WTA Player Council.
Read highlights from Pegula's interview below and listen to the full interview on the WTA Insider Podcast.
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WTA Insider: You had two great results with the quarterfinal at the Australian Open and semifinals in Miami. What were the lows?
Pegula: I had COVID after I got married for a couple of weeks. Looking back at it, I definitely felt a little unprepared physically coming into the year. I was practicing a lot, but I honestly felt like I was playing catchup even when I was in Australia. I was able to take care of a good draw that kind of opened up for me there, which was great mentally. But physically and mentally, which I think they go hand in hand, I was just struggling a little bit.
Now that I look back, I don't know if it was because I had COVID and I didn't do anything for two weeks and it took me a little while to get back. I lost two or three weeks of training that maybe affected me a little bit mentally. But I was able to do well in Australia and do OK in the Middle East. I lost to some good players there.
Indian Wells, I was not feeling great at all. I felt horrible. I just felt like I wasn't playing my game. Kudos to Marie Bouzkova, who can be really, really tough and has had really great results. I think she's a much better player than her ranking shows. She played a great match there and I knew she was going to be tough.
But in Miami, I was able to reset a little bit. I got to go home, get some good practice the week before and some training weeks. I felt so much better going into Miami and was able to show that. I definitely played, at least personally for me, a million times better than I've been playing all year.
WTA Insider: So you were struggling to find your game in practice too?
Pegula: It's tough because sometimes you feel great in practice, but you play bad in matches. Sometimes you are practicing horrible, but you're able to play great in matches. I felt like I wasn't playing well on either front, which is just very frustrating.
After Indian Wells, I was able to go back to the drawing board mentally and start doing some things that I had to focus on more. Getting my footwork better, using my legs better. I got back to journaling a little bit more. I was doing it a little bit in the beginning of the year, but not as much. Even meditating, I always try to do that and maybe wasn't doing it as frequently as I had been in the past.
WTA Insider: As you look to clay, how do you set yourself up for this segment of the season?
Pegula: It's a new challenge right away. I had one day back home and then drove straight here. It's already presenting a bunch of new challenges mentally and physically that I'm going to have to deal with starting when I play doubles. It's crazy how it can be such a quick turnaround.
But I think again, trying to stay present, keep an open mind about what I need to do a little bit differently on clay and what I need to keep the same. And I think, too, just not letting it frustrate me. Maybe the bounces aren't as good, points can be longer, not getting frustrated with the different conditions because it's a long season. So just keeping an open mind and staying positive about everything here will help set me up for the next few months.
Some people can get really frustrated on the clay. I actually grew up in this area. I don't hate clay by any means. I think I have become more of a hard-court player, but sometimes I think I have to remind myself that I grew up playing on clay, especially the green clay. It's not the end of the world that it's clay-court season like some people make it out to be. You can still play good tennis.
WTA Insider: I sent a tweet about Iga Swiatek now turning to the clay season and you tweeted back "help us all."
Pegula: I'm sure everyone else is thinking, "Oh crap." It's like when Rafa started learning how to play on grass and you were like, "Oh, shoot, we're all in trouble."
She won junior Wimbledon, so obviously she can play on grass. So that's also another scary thought, that we even have to think about that.
WTA Insider: You were the only player to get seven games off Iga in Miami.
Pegula: I know. That was a like a win that week [laughs]. It's like I won the whole tournament.
What an interesting few weeks. Thanks @MiamiOpen for the great event and the chance to play so close to home. Congrats to @iga_swiatek on the title, #1, and much more. You’re making history right now. Enjoy it 👏🏼 pic.twitter.com/cj1GNUFwQp— Jessie Pegula (@JLPegula) April 3, 2022
WTA Insider: You do have a win over her. You played her during your title run at the 2019 Citi Open. What makes her so tough to solve right now?
Pegula: So it's kind of funny because a long time ago I remember watching her. She went on a run where she won four 60Ks in a row. I remember seeing that and thinking this girl must be really good. That is not easy to do. It was on clay, so clearly she likes clay. So when I played her in D.C., I was not taking that lightly by any means. I was like, "This girl is going to be good."
I beat her, but she was a little inexperienced and on hard courts she definitely wasn't as good. She got beat by Giorgi [at 2019 Australian Open]. She wasn't used to the pace coming in on the hard courts, I don't think. She was still adapting, but she was really good on clay.
When she won the French Open, I was not surprised at all. I was keeping my eye on her. But I didn't know how fast she would adapt to hard courts. Even last year, she wasn't quite playing as well on it. She won Adelaide, but I think Adelaide was kind of a slow hard court. So I thought OK, Indian Wells, where the balls are slow, the balls fluff up, she'll definitely like playing on there. But I definitely was not expecting her to win three 1000s and go on a crazy run.
WTA Insider: You're on the Player Council this year. You're also an entrepreneur with your skincare line, Ready 24. How are you juggling these leadership positions while still playing the best tennis of your career?
Pegula: I think another challenge this year is figuring out how to balance it all and I'm still learning how to do it the best I can. Now I have a lot more commitments when I come to these tournaments where I have to do media days and I have to do all these visits and sponsor visits and all this stuff that I'm totally not used to doing. It's still fun for me because it's still pretty fresh, they're new experiences.
I don't mind taking on more leadership responsibilities because maybe even after my career when I'm done that's the road I would go down. I love the sport. I want to help as much as I can because it's given me so much. So to me, it's just a healthy way to give back to the sport. As long as I'm not spending too much time, too much energy on it, I think it's a great way to just learn about how things work, learn how these tournaments work, how the tour works, what players want.
It's something really important because there's so much more after tennis. That can get lost sometimes. And it keeps the pressure off me as well when I have something to talk about, or work on or look forward to when I'm off the court, helping in different ways. When I'm thinking about a match so much, it can just add too much pressure and I just don't respond well in that way.
So to me, it's just a fun way to keep learning. And also learning what maybe I might be interested in after I'm done, which direction I want to go. Maybe it's nothing with tennis. Maybe I'm like, "Player Council was terrible, I don't want anything to do with any of this, I'm going to go just do my skin care line." Or maybe I can really see myself in this space. Learning that is just an important life skill and I think it's really important in all ways.
WTA Insider: What are the main goals right now for the Player Council?
Pegula: Well, I'm still really new to all this, and I'm only serving out the six-month term right now. I'm the rookie that's still learning. It's been an interesting experience. But I think a lot of it is just getting back to normalcy, getting new protocols. Getting back to fans, to normal things, has been a focus. There's a lot of different things going on. But I think getting back to normalcy with these tournaments and trying to keep the tour healthy as far as fans and sponsors and stuff like that seems to be the main thing.
And just being there for each other as well with the new challenge of Ukraine and Russia. Coming together more as players and as the WTA family, supporting each other, whether it's the players or staff or the tournaments. That's obviously been another very big main issue, trying to come together during that situation.