It’s always possible to evolve -- even at the advanced age of 29.
Jessica Pegula has been rewriting her story this week at the Omnium National Bank tournament in Montreal. She had split two matches with doubles partner Coco Gauff -- and managed to defeat the ascendant teenager in three sets.
On Saturday, she reversed a 2-5 head-to-head record against World No.1 Iga Swiatek and sailed into Sunday’s final against Liudmila Samsonova, who advanced to the final earlier in the day. Samsonova booked a spot in her first WTA 1000 final by defeating No.4 Elena Rybakina 1-6, 6-1, 6-2 in the semifinal that was postponed on Friday.
For Pegula she reached the championship match after losing in the Montreal semifinals in her only two previous appearances.
“I hope the third time is a charm,” Pegula told reporters after handing Swiatek her eighth loss of the season against 50 wins. “I’ve always played really well here, and I lost a tough one to [Simona] Halep last year and then another one to [Camila] Giorgi [in 2021].
“They both went on to win the tournament, so … I hope that means that I can get the win tomorrow.”
In this particular case, there is no bad karma, no bitter aftertaste to overcome. Across all levels, Pegula has a 2-1 head-to-head record against Samsonova.
Pegula’s assimilation skills are extraordinary. Her ability to process information and make the appropriate adjustments is why she’s into her first final in Montreal.
Last year Pegula played Swiatek -- and lost all four times. This year? She’s 2-for-3, with wins at the United Cup in Australia back in January and Saturday’s terrific 6-2, 6-7 (4), 6-4 takedown of the World No.1.
This, after losing the first four matches of her career to the No.1-ranked player. Her entire experience at the Canadian Open was a pair of semifinal losses -- and she reversed that history, too.
For 150 minutes Pegula stared down Swiatek and rarely blinked. Swiatek had 15 service games and was broken an amazing 11 times -- a career worst. Pegula stepped in, two, three feet inside the baseline, and crushed her second serve, winning 23 of those 33 points.
Only four women have beaten Swiatek three times in her professional career: Aryna Sabalenka, Maria Sakkari, Elena Rybakina -- and now Pegula.
True, Pegula’s track record at this level isn’t great. She’s reached six WTA Tour finals in her career -- and won only two. That’s a disappointing total for a 29-year-old ranked No.3 in the world. She’s been unnaturally consistent, reaching six of the past 11 major quarterfinals -- but lost them all.
This one, though, feels different.
She handled her doubles partner, Coco Gauff, in three sets in what had to be an emotional Friday quarterfinal. Swiatek was her second Top 10 victim in two days. Pegula is moving well and her anticipation makes it seems as though she’s playing both sides of a video game.
Last year, Pegula reached her first WTA 1000 final in Madrid, losing to Ons Jabeur. Five months later, she won the title in Guadalajara, beating Elena Rybakina, Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sakkari along the way.
Perhaps the biggest factor is that Pegula finished her match almost 24 hours before Rybakina and Samsonova walked onto the court. -- Greg Garber
The Summer of Samsonova is upon us once again. Last year, the 24-year-old picked up titles at Washington D.C. and Cleveland, so it's no surprise to see her flourishing once again on the North American hard courts.
To make her first WTA 1000 final, Samsonova has been a gritty and unshakable competitor. She's been a wrecking ball in Montreal, knocking out No.2 Aryna Sabalenka and No.4 Elena Rybakina on her way to her first final of since Abu Dhabi in February. As if two Top 5 wins weren't enough to underline her form, Samsonova also added wins over No.13 Belinda Bencic and Zheng Qinwen. Her wins over Sabalenka and Bencic both came in one day.
The biggest question for Samsonova now will be how much she has in the tank for Pegula. The two have always gone a full three sets against each other and have split their two main-draw meetings. That has to give Samsonova confidence that she can take Pegula to the edge. If she can dig deep and find that extra energy to serve and hit through the Pegula defense, she has the game to stop the American.
This will be their first meeting of the season. Pegula won their last match in at 2022 Rome, winning 4-6, 6-3, 6-4. Samsonova won a year earlier on the grass at Wimbledon, winning 6-4, 3-6, 6-3. This will be their first main-draw meeting on hard courts.
-- Courtney Nguyen