The weather continued to disrupt play at the GNP Seguros WTA Finals on Saturday, but Jessica Pegula made the best of her semi-final outing by routing her friend and doubles partner Coco Gauff, 6-2 6-1, in just an hour, while the highly anticipated clash between Aryna Sabalenka and Iga Swiatek was suspended overnight by rain.
I don’t think I consider myself the favourite, considering the two girls [Sabalenka and Swiatek] are ranked ahead of me. I’ll probably be considered the underdog, even though I’m playing great tennis. Jessica Pegula
“I’m happy to have won, I did a good job today. I am undefeated in Mexico, I don’t know why, maybe it feels a little familiar to me, here the conditions remind me a little of where I live, I think the courts favour me, plus I like tacos, margaritas,” said Pegula.
For the first time since 2012, the Top 3 ranked players in the world advanced to the semi-final stage of the WTA Finals, plus Pegula, who is a former No 3, and while there have been 25 different singles winners, a 26th will be newly-crowned in Cancun, not on Sunday but now on Monday.
The current World No 1 and 2 played just 3 games when the rain blew in, pausing the contest that will help determine who will end the year at the top of the rankings.
If Sabalenka wins, the Australian Open champion will slam the door on her rival and finish as the year-end No 1, but if Swiatek, who won her 3rd French Open title this year, advances and can go on to claim the title, then she will regain the top spot she relinquished after the US Open.
Whoever does win, though, will have to get past a red-hot Pegula, the World No 5 who has yet to lose a set on the outdoor hard courts in Cancun.
Pegula, who lost all 6 of her singles and doubles matches at last year’s WTA Finals in Fort Worth, shook off a late rain delay and windy conditions to easily dispatch US Open champion Gauff.
“I managed to get my act together at the end of the year,” Pegula told reporters afterwards. “I’ve done a good job of resetting coming here.
“It’s not fun leaving [Fort Worth] 0-6. I’m glad I’ve turned the tables. I found a way to make it work. I’m feeling confident going into the finals.”
The American is now a pristine 4-0 in singles in Estadio Paradisus, having beaten Sabalenka, World No 3 Gauff, No 4 Elena Rybakina and No 9 Maria Sakkari in reaching the finals.
“I executed what I wanted to do really well,” Pegula said after the demolition of her doubles partner. “In the windy conditions, I think it worked even better.
“I was just trying not to get frustrated with my serve, or returns, or any funky kind of points that we had, and just to keep my feet moving.”
Pegula and Gauff, the 19-year-old who lifted her first Grand Slam trophy in September on the New York hard courts, met in the first all-US semi-final at the WTA Finals since the round-robin format was restarted in 2003.
Capturing her 7th consecutive triumph over a Top 10 rival, Pegula won 10 of the last 11 games and broke 6 times in a dominating performance, stretching her overall win streak to 9 matches.
“The wind is so tough, I feel, like, I hit hard and flat. If I do that up the middle it’s hard for people to create,” Pegula said. “If you’re going to go out and hit winners in this it’s, like, too good.
“But I don’t think anyone can really do that that efficiently.”
Gauff, also 0-3 in Fort Worth, finished here with 2 wins and 2 losses, and has now lost 3 of 4 career matches to Pegula.
“She was playing well with the wind and I wasn’t. So, yeah, that’s pretty much it,” Gauff said, mentioning that they didn’t have the chance for a full warm-up before getting on court to play. “At the end of the day, she was the more experienced player when it came to these circumstances.
“So I’m not going to blame the weather or anything. We were in the same boat.”
At 29, Pegula is a decade older than Gauff, and her experience showed in the extremely windy conditions.
During one of the several rain breaks in the second set, the umbrella being held over Gauff’s changeover chair was blown inside out.
The younger American was often tentative and seemed conflicted as to whether to maintain a safe margin with her shots or go for winners.
They broke each other early, but, with the score 2-all, Pegula went to work, breaking Gauff for the second time when a net-cord ball fell back.
Pegula held and broke again when a Gauff forehand service return soared long.
Breaking Gauff for the 4th time to open the second set, and again in the 5th game, Pegula was cruising at 4-1 when rain again interrupted play, but she finished with a flourish, breaking the teenager one more time.
When Saturday’s semi-final ended after an hour, Pegula and Gauff met at the net for a hug.
“Coco is still the present and the future of US tennis,” Pegula said on court. “I’m happy that I’m also at the top of the game and one of the leaders for all the Americans, so that’s always really nice. And that’s, kind of, just where I see myself.”
Gauff lost 29 of her 49 service points, and finished with only 6 winners against her 25 unforced errors, while Pegula was a much tidier 9 and 11.
“It’s probably my biggest final ever,” Pegula said. “It’s going to give me a lot of confidence going into next year.”
In addition to the final, Pegula will have to navigate her way through a complicated doubles situation.
Initially, she and Gauff were scheduled to play 3 potential matches, but their round-robin match against Laura Siegemund & Vera Zvonareva was suspended on Friday, with the Americans leading 6-3, 1-1, and with the last spot in the semi-finals hanging in the balance.
With the two singles matches the priority, doubles was deferred, so if Gauff & Pegula, the top seeds, win that suspended match in straight sets, or in three, so long as they win 3 games in the second set, they will be in line to play the team of Storm Hunter & Elise Mertens in the semi-finals.
There was no respite for Sabalenka and Swiatek from the weather that has wreaked havoc all week in Mexico.
They were on serve with Swiatek up 2-1 and Sabalenka serving at 30-all when the showers started again, the players remaining on the court wrapped in towels amid hopes they would get underway again soon.
Heavier rain, though, saw them sent to the locker room, before officials called a halt to play shortly after 10 pm local time after a near 2 hour wait.
Swiatek and Sabalenka are scheduled to resume their match on Sunday, while the singles final, originally slated for Sunday, has been pushed back to Monday by organisers.
Asked if she now considers herself the favourite for the title, Pegula responded: “No, I don’t think I consider myself the favourite, considering the two girls [Sabalenka and Swiatek] are ranked ahead of me.
“I’ll probably be considered the underdog, even though I’m playing great tennis.”
Sabalenka beat Swiatek in last year’s WTA Finals semi-finals and has split two clay meetings with the Pole this year, winning at Madrid while falling to Swiatek in the final at Stuttgart.
Meanwhile, Pegula is 2-4 in her career against Sabalenka, but beat her earlier this week in round-robin play, and 3-5 against Swiatek.
Here is Sunday’s full order of play:
5.30 pm (all GMT)
Round Robin:  Coco Gauff & Jessica Pegula vs.  Laura Siegemund and Vera Zvonareva (to finish
Not Before 6 pm
Doubles semi-final:  Gabriela Dabrowski & Erin Routliffe vs.  Nicole Melichar-Martinez & Ellen Perez
Doubles semi-final:  Coco Gauff & Jessica Pegula OR  Laura Siegemund & Vera Zvonareva vs.  Storm Hunter & Elise Mertens
Not Before 9.30 pm
Singles semifinal:  Aryna Sabalenka vs.  Iga Swiatek (to finish, Swiatek leads 2-1)
Not Before 12 am
The Doubles Final