FORT WORTH, Texas -- Ons Jabeur and Jessica Pegula might be WTA Finals rookies, but the World No.2 and No.3 lead the Nancy Richey Group at the WTA Finals. Along with No.5 Maria Sakkari and No.7 Aryna Sabalenka, Jabeur and Pegula will kick off play Monday at the season-ending championships.
WTA Finals round-robin groups revealed in Fort Worth
Reflecting on their seasons and tough opening matches, here's what the quartet had to say on WTA Finals Media Day.
Jabeur on being one of the four players making her WTA Finals debut, along with Pegula, Coco Gauff and Daria Kasatkina:
"I feel like even the first time players, they were pretty consistent the last few years. You can take Jess, Coco, me. We always try to qualify. We were maybe 13, 12 in the Race before.
"Nobody saw the changes coming because of COVID and the ranking [freeze], so I feel like the change happened way before. But since the rankings stopped for a while, people didn't see it.
"Those players are here. They were the players consistent for a few years already."
'She's a challenge just by herself' - Media Day insights from the Tracy Austin Group
Pegula on making a name for herself apart from her family's notoriety:
"I think it's always something I've had in the back of my mind a little bit, but I think at the same time when I was younger, I would maybe try to prove myself too much. I think that would create more pressure. Over the years, I've gotten a lot more comfortable as far as my family or my background and stuff like that. I think maybe taking that pressure off helped me to earn my accomplishments and have people more recognize my name on the tennis court than not.
"So it's definitely a very rewarding, satisfying feeling. Especially when a lot of people I know, they know me as a tennis player and a great tennis player. I think that's always really nice to hear.
"It's just a testament to all the work I've put in and all the hours and the hard work that I've had to put in to earn that right. I always knew that maybe in a way it would almost be harder for me to earn that because that's not what my family is known for. I've kind of stopped trying to prove that so much. In the end, I think it came naturally, which is nice."
Real housewives of the WTA premiering October 31st https://t.co/jjKLB4fwRa— Jessie Pegula (@JLPegula) October 29, 2022
Sakkari on securing the final qualifying spot in Guadalajara last week:
"I believed that I was going to find my rhythm again after having that blip this season. So I believe personally, and I think that that's what everyone around me has the same way of thinking, that when you have the level you're going to find it again. My time came in Mexico. I just played a very good tournament. Already I was nearly there. It wasn't like I was far back from the last spot. I was just two spots away from that.
"I believe I deserved it, and I deserve to be here. It was just a strange year that it can happen to everyone."
Sabalenka, who also endured a challenging season, on being one of three players -- along with Iga Swiatek and Sakkari -- to begin the season in the Top 10 never drop out:
"I feel super happy to be here, especially after such a challenging year. I feel like it's a miracle for me to be here, and I'm just enjoying every second.
"Being in the Top 10 even with such a tough year, this is something incredible. I'm really proud of myself, how I handled all of these challenges. I'm proud of my team that they were there and they just support me."
Sakkari on sticking with her team through thick and thin:
"Of course, there were moments in the season I was panicking, I didn't know what to do. But the most important thing for me was that I had the same people and the people I trust next to me.
"I think in my case, if I was just to do random changes around me, it would be a mistake for me. For me, trusting everyone next to me was the key. It's something that I'm very thankful and grateful for. I think that's what helped me get over this tough period I had."
Working the Purple Carpet in Fort Worth 🎸— wta (@WTA) October 29, 2022
The world's top eight players ahead of the #WTAFinals Official Draw Ceremony presented by @breakthelove_hq 💜 pic.twitter.com/oZSo7tvX6P
Sabalenka on what her tough season taught her:
"This year I was fighting with myself, which is a completely different fight, and I learned a lot about myself. I think this season started as the worst season, but at the end, I think it was the best season for me because I learned a lot, and I became even stronger, and mentally stronger.
"I don't know what else can happen, what can really put me under stress, you know? Of course, after you say that, something is going to happen."
Pegula on her opening match against Sakkari, a rematch of the Guadalajara final:
"I think maybe some people are, like, 'Oh, well, she just beat her in Guadalajara. Oh, it should be an easy matchup.' But I think at the same time it's almost harder because obviously she's going to go back and try to change things.
"The courts are totally different. The surface is different. The balls are different. Not at altitude. There's a lot of dynamic that changes with that, and I'm going to try and stick to my game plan to what I thought worked well in Guadalajara, but that might have to change a little bit with the conditions."
Sabalenka on facing Jabeur in her opener:
"It definitely is going to be tough match, and she's really playing well this season. But, you know, I worked a lot on my slice game so probably I can surprise her. She will be, like, 'Oh, my God, she started slicing, I'm done for this match.' This is my plan. If it works, it's good. If not, I will try something else."