Jessica Pegula
Jessica Pegula of United States in action against Viktoriya Tomova of Bulgaria at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on February 21, 2023. Pegula lost the Qatar Open singles final, but teamed up with Coco Gauff to win the doubles crown. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Jessica Pegula of the United States brushed aside a mid-match crisis to take down Viktoriya Tomova in three sets to advance to the round of 16 in the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championship. The blip on Tuesday was a minor lapse in concentration as the World No. 3 recorded her sixth consecutive WTA 1000 main draw win for the first time in her career. That reflects a massive turnaround in her fortunes and her newfound status as one of the top players on the WTA tour.

But the journey wasn’t easy. “At the end of last year, I had this weird feeling [of self-doubts]. But after going to Australia, winning in the United Cup and doing well last week [in Qatar Open], I’m solidifying more and more. I definitely earned it [the status as a major contender]. And I believe in [myself] much more than last year,” Pegula said at the post-match press conference.

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That self-belief was evident in Doha, where she made the finals of the Qatar Open. She lost the singles to a rampant Iga Swiatek of Poland but successfully defended the doubles crown by partnering Coco Gauff. It was her performance in singles that pleased Pegula.

“I’m happy that I made it to the final. And I’m glad I got to play Iga in a final. A lot of times last year, I played her in the quarters or semis, being on the same side of the draw. I definitely want just to keep pushing for that, keep pushing to go as far as I can every single week, and win more tournaments. That’s the goal. I think my level is there.

Swiatek was the dominant player in the WTA Tour last year, winning two Grand Slam titles and stitching together a 37-match win streak — the longest in recent times. In comparison, where does Pegula see her game?

How Pegula beat Swiatek

“In Doha, Iga was playing at a really high level the whole week. Just seemed like it was her week. But hopefully [I will catch her] next time. I was able to beat her in Sydney, which I think helped my confidence [and taught me] how I need to play her. It’s not always going to be executed as well as I played that match. I know what I need to do. It’s a matter of executing it, how she’s playing, how I’m playing on that day,” Pegula said, recalling her win in the United Cup.

To me, doubles is just half-court. It’s really not that strenuous for me. Especially because I’m fit enough to play singles, so for doubles, it doesn’t seem like it’s that big a deal.

- Jessica Pegula, American tennis player

The 28-year-old plays a lot of tournaments. That too in singles and doubles. It is a lot of matches. How does Pegula manage her workload?

“Yes (smiling). Looking back, now that Coco and I have done so well. Maybe we would only play at the [WTA] 1000s. Obviously, we were defending champs in Doha, so we wanted to defend our title as well, which we were able to do. Maybe we wouldn’t have played doubles there if that wasn’t the case just because we’re going fairly deep in singles as well. It can be a lot. I enjoy playing.

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Despite the workload, Pegula’s doubles matches help her to adapt to the surface faster and finetune her skills. So it can be beneficial. “Doubles help my singles game. I really enjoy it. I think it’s fun. I’d rather go out and compete than have to practice on the practice court, sit around all day,” Pegula added.

But the problem is when the player goes deep into the tournament in singles and doubles. That can affect performance. How does Pegula deal with it?

“It depends on the week. I guess it depends on how I’m doing in singles if I’m winning matches easily, [it’s okay]. If not, yeah, it can affect you physically. I think you just have to be aware of how that is. To me, doubles is just half-court. It’s really not that strenuous for me. Especially because I’m fit enough to play singles, so for doubles, it doesn’t seem like it’s that big a deal,” Pegula said.

The American seems to be coping well, and with plenty of success. She’s World No. 3 in singles and No. 4 in doubles. Clearly, she has managed the workload well.