Jessica Pegula and Coco Gauff put in the hard yards when no one was watching, and now they are savoring their rewards of that monumental investment in Fort Worth. They qualified for the WTA Finals – which starts Monday – in both singles and doubles.
“I genuinely just like to win,” Pegula said this summer at the Citi Open in Washington, D.C. “To me, even if you lose in singles, you still have the same kind of tournament routine in doubles. I think that’s important because sometimes something happens and you lose early in singles, the weeks can really drag on.
“It’s tough to get a practice court because people are still in the tournament. To me, staying in that mental state I think helps traveling and helps the weeks go by. It’s always good when you’re winning.”
Some might question that divided attention – and double work load – but the emerging question is: Why don’t more players live a double(s) life?
Let’s take a closer look at some of the other qualifiers in Fort Worth.
Last year, Barbora Krejcikova was the first player in five years to compete in both the year-end singles and doubles competitions. The 2021 French Open champion lost her three round-robin singles matches – to a formidable lineup of Anett Kontaveit, Garbiñe Muguruza and Karolina Pliskova. But in doubles with Katerina Siniakova, Krejcikova won all five matches, including the final over Hsieh Su-Wei and Elise Mertens.
This year, a bout with COVID-19 and an elbow injury might have cost Krejcikova a chance to qualify in singles. Still, she and Siniakova won all three of the Grand Slam events they entered – the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the US Open – and were the first doubles team to qualify for Fort Worth.
Jelena Ostapenko, the 2017 French Open champion, was half of the No.5 team that qualified in doubles, along with Lyudmyla Kichenok. Caroline Garcia, the No.5 qualifier in singles, just missed making the doubles cut with partner Kristina Mladenovic at No.10.
Pegula began the year playing with Asia Muhammad – and they won their first event, a WTA 250 in Melbourne. But they had already agreed to part ways because there was such a discrepancy in their singles rankings, making it hard to play the same tournaments.
Pegula and Gauff teamed up and split their first two matches in Dubai – and then one week later won the title in Doha, beating two of the teams that would qualify for Fort Worth.
They had played together twice in 2021, in Abu Dhabi and Montreal, but agreed to be partners for the balance of 2022.
“We never did well,” Pegula explained, “but we were like, `We should do well. We should complement each other, right?’ And then we were like, `Oh, well, for the Race we might as well continue playing.’
“And I guess it worked out.”
Gauff believes doubles has had a positive effect on singles.
“I feel like it helped a lot – especially returning,” she explained at the Citi Open. “I feel like there’s more pressure returning in doubles just because you know that there’s a net person there. I feel like my returns have been getting better and better, and I think it is because of doubles.”
Pegula feels doubles has another advantage.
“It’s a no-ad point, especially the format we play,” she said. “That can feel like more pressure than a singles match.”
The extra work is a valuable tool, as well.
“I think a lot of times if I’m not serving well, `Okay, when you play doubles tomorrow, work on a couple things like your toss or your motion,'’’ Pegula said. “You’re definitely always getting extra reps in, and I think that’s really important.
“You’re hitting returns, you’re hitting serves, hitting volleys, working on a lot more intangibles. I think those things definitely helped my singles.”
And then there’s the team dynamic. For Gauff, who is still only 18 years old, 28-year-old Pegula is a steadying influence.
“I’m super up-and-down, and she’s usually pretty cool the whole time,” Gauff told reporters in Toronto. “So I think it definitely helps in singles because I’m, like, I need to start trying to remind myself and be like a Jess in my head a little bit.
“I’m serious, that’s what I’m thinking. Sometimes I need a little bit of Jess in my life.”