GUADALAJARA, Mexico -- Jessica Pegula was tired of playing second fiddle. So when the opportunity presented itself at the Guadalajara Open Akron, the 28-year-old American stepped into the limelight and dominated.
Dealt a difficult draw that required her to get past four consecutive major champions, including reigning Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina in her opening round, Pegula marched through her draw to win the biggest title of her career.
The straight-sets win Sunday against Maria Sakkari underscored her rise to become the new World No.3. It was a apt procession for Pegula, who has been the winningest player at the WTA 1000-level over the past two season, winning 39 matches on the Hologic WTA Tour's biggest stages.
Pegula dedicated her title run to her mother, Kim, who has been dealing with health issues since the summer.
"My mom always kind of joked I was the first sports team as far as helping me with my tennis career growing up," Pegula told reporters. "I definitely wanted to dedicate it to her. She's had a really tough year. I know she was watching. I'm sure she appreciated that."
22 - Jessica Pegula is the second American player to win 22+ WTA-1000 main draw matches in a single season after Serena Williams (in 2013, 2014 and 2015). Luxurious.@WTA @WTA_insider @WTAGuadalajara #GDLOPENAKRON pic.twitter.com/dfHSL9fSpL— OptaAce (@OptaAce) October 24, 2022
Pegula joined the WTA Insider Podcast after her win this week to reflect on the lessons she learned through tough losses.
Listen to the full interview below:
On feeling like Guadalajara was her time
"I feel like in San Diego I was playing really well and I felt very relaxed. And then I played Iga [Swiatek], won the first set, had a tough rain delay, and then like felt like I wasn't as relaxed going to those two and three sets, which she can make you feel like that. So when I came here, I felt the same. Then I saw my draw and I was like, shoot. I personally thought I had the toughest section of all the draws, just with all the names that were in my section, I was like, 'Holy crap. Are you serious?'
"In the back of my mind it was a little bit like, 'OK, well Iga's not in this tournament, Ons didn't play this tournament, Paula lost early. I'm kind of supposed to win. This is your chance to win.' I wanted to solidify myself as being the third-ranked in the world and saying this is my tournament to win. So I was definitely aware of it, but I don't think I really overthought it or got too caught up in it."
On becoming the main character of her own story
"Today it felt different. In the other tournaments I lost, or finals, or close matches or big matches, I just feel like I was always kind of like a part of like someone else's story. Today I felt a little bit better. I felt like I'm writing my story today.
"Sometimes that's how it is. Ons [Jabeur], everything she's done for Tunisia and winning her first big 1000 title, she lost a lot of finals and she finally won one. It was her story on clay where she was playing so well the whole year. Iga, her domination throughout the year. Simona [Halep], coming back and finally winning a 1000. Caroline [Garcia] qualifying for the WTA Finals, winning a 1000 and going back into the Top 10 after being out of it for so long. There are so many different storylines. Today I just felt like it more it was my storyline this time and not being part of someone else's story."
On the pride she takes from her 2022 season:
"I'm just proud of how consistently I was able to handle my emotions throughout the entire year, through every good result, bad result that I had. I was always able to reset really quickly.
"In the San Diego tournament, I was pissed that I lost [to Iga] and more pissed because she won the tournament. I lost her, I lost to Ash [Barty in Melbourne], I lost to Simona [in Toronto], I lost to Caroline [in Cincinnati]. I was like, what is going on? I lose to every single person in the quarterfinals or semis or in the final against Ons [in Madrid]. This stat has got to be a standout stat for the year. So I just felt annoyed and I was like, 'I want to win a tournament.'
"I think overcoming those constant mental challenges throughout the year is what I'm most proud of. To do it all the way up until the end of the year just shows that I've showed up every single week. I've been able to deal with it and learn from it and gain experience.
"I think getting this title will definitely give me a lot of confidence. I think even going into next year, even if my year is not amazing, I think in the back of my mind, I know I can win these big matches in these big tournaments and I think no matter what, that always gives me confidence."