Miami | Pegula battles into semi-final against Rybakina

World No 3 Jessica Pegula battled past Russia’s Anastasia Potapova, 4-6 6-3 7-6(2), saving 2 match points in the process, in a match which finished at 1.30 am at the Miami Open Presented by Itaú, while Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina extended her winning streak to 12 matches as she glided by Italy’s Martina Trevisan, 6-3 6-0, into the semi-finals where the two will meet on Friday.

I don't mind playing her [Elena Rybakina], at least in the past. Obviously she's picked up her level since then, so it'll be a tough test, especially after this match, just physically see how I feel. Hopefully I can recover in time. At least I have another day. She's been playing some great tennis, I feel like her and [Aryna] Sabalenka are the ones to beat right now. It is going to be a great test and, I think, it is a deserved semi for a tournament like this. Jessica Pegula

Pegula, America’s No 1, has got off to flying starts of late, and she broke early again to go 2-0 up in the first set on Tuesday night, but Potapova struck right back, winning the next 5 games with some aggressive winners, and then holding to take the set.

Although Pegula took control of the second, Potapova showed real grit in the third, and put herself in position to win the contest, but she failed to convert either of her 2 match points, and was forced into a tiebreak in which the exhausted American found sufficient energy to get herself over the finish line in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

“I don’t know how I turned it around,” Pegula admitted after her 2 hour 36 minute win. “I just kept going. It’s a huge win.

“I haven’t been that physically tired in a really long time. Just the humidity was taking so much out of me. It was just really tough, so really it was just pure will,” she added.

The start of the match was delayed for nearly 4 hours due to rain, and Pegula was seen chatting with Potapova at the net before helping the ball kids dry the court.

The 28-year-old, who is the daughter of Terry and Kim Pegula, multi-billionaire owners of the Buffalo Bills of the National Football League and the Buffalo Sabres of the National Hockey League, is half-Korean, as her mother was born in Seoul before being adopted at age 5.

On Tuesday night she showed a touch of class, prompting fans on social media to praise her as a hardworking and humble billionaire who is a ‘true woman for the people’.

Married in 2021 to Taylor Gahagen, a corporate executive for Pegula Sports and Entertainment and an animal philanthropist, Pegula was a semi-finalist in Miami last year, and has now become the first American to reach back-to-back semi-finals here since Serena Williams in 2014 and 2015, her second WTA 1000 Last 4 appearance of the season.

Pegula came into the match with a 3-0 record against Potapova, but was wisely aware of the challenge she presented, with their most recent meeting coming just 2 weeks ago at Indian Wells, where the Russian had her on the ropes, leading 3-1 in the final set before the American mounted a come-back win.

Anastasia Potapova let 2 match points slip before bowing out to Jessica Pegula in the early hours of the morning in Miami

© Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Taking to the court at 10.45 pm, both struggled to find their rhythm but, after falling behind 2-0, Potapova played cleaner, more consistently aggressive tennis to win 5 straight games and lead 5-2.

Pegula narrowed the gap, but was broken for the set after a Potapova backhand skimmed the back edge of the baseline for a clean winner on set point.

In the second, the No 3 seed responded by reducing her unforced errors from 19 to 10, improving her first serve percentage from 50% to 63%, and going perfect on her 3 for 3 break point chances, as she rebounded from a 2-0 deficit and won 4 consecutive games to build a 4-2 lead, and forced the decider from there.

Potapova came into the match leading the Hologic WTA Tour in 3-set wins with an 8-3 record this year, and she proved her mettle once again down the stretch.

On a night when a 2-0 lead proved precarious, Pegula saw Potapova win 4 consecutive games to lead by a break at 4-2.

“She was just playing fearless, just going for her shots, moving well,” Pegula said. “The key was to not get too frustrated and just try and stay within one break in the third even though I was really gassed.

“I knew regardless she would get tight trying to close it out. She got a little tight and I was able to take my chances.”

With Potapova serving at 5-4, Pegula saved 2 match points from 40-15 down, and broke on her third break point chance to level the set.

Undeterred, the Russian broke immediately to earn a second chance to serve out the win, but, again, Pegula broke back, this time to force a deciding set breaker.

This time, the World No 3 built a lead she did not give up, using her forehand to race out to 5-1m and closing out the win in the early hours of the morning.

Elena Rybakina remains in contention for the 'Sunshine Double' after gliding past Martina Trevisan in the quarter-final on Tuesday at the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida

© Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Pegula will next face Indian Wells champion and 10th seed Elena Rybakina, who trounced Martina Trevisan, dropping just 3 games in their earlier quarter-final.

The two will lock horns for a third time, with Pegula having won both of their previous encounters in 2022.

“I don’t mind playing her, at least in the past,” Pegula said. “Obviously she’s picked up her level since then, so it’ll be a tough test, especially after this match, just physically see how I feel.

“Hopefully I can recover in time. At least I have another day.

“She’s been playing some great tennis, I feel like her and [Aryna] Sabalenka are the ones to beat right now,” Pegula added. “It is going to be a great test and, I think, it is a deserved semi for a tournament like this.”

The 28-year-old is also competing in the women’s doubles event in Miami with Coco Gauff as her partner.

The pair are seeded No 2 and they booked their spot in the quarter-finals of the WTA 1000 tournament with a 6-4 7-6(4) win over Asia Muhammad & Anna Dalinina.

They face 6th seeds Elise Mertens & Storm Hunter next, with the winners to meet either 8th seeds Nicole-Melichar Martinez & Ellen Perez or Chang Hao-chin & Latisha Chan in the semi-finals.

If Pegula manages to win both the women’s singles and doubles titles, she will become only the 4th woman to do so in the same year at the Miami Open, the others being Martina Navratilova, Steffi Graf and Arantxa Sanchez Vicario.

Martina Trevisan mounted a brief come-back in the first set but failed to win another game against Elena Rybakina on Tuesday afternoon

© Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

Moscow-born Rybakina, who competes for Kazakhstan, remains in strong contention for the ‘Sunshine Double’ after winning the title at Indian Wells, with Pegula and Sabalenka her remaining hurdles.

The Belarusian World No 2 was in impressive form as she powered past Czech Barbora Krejcíkova in straight sets in her 4th-round match on Monday, and she will face Romanian Sorana Cirstea in the Last 8 on Wednesday, while another Czech, Petra Kvitova takes on Ekaterina Alexandrova.

Rybakina took charge of her match against Trevisan, the 25th-seed, when the Italian double-faulted to hand her a break and a 3-1 advantage in the first set, and although she was broken back to get matters back on serve at 4-3, the Kazakh grabbed full control by winning the remaining 8 games to wrap up the win in 69 minutes.

“It would be better to feel better on the courts, physically, but this is something I have to play with, and for now, I am getting through, which I’m happy with,” the World No 7 said. “I didn’t serve that well, the percentage of the first serve, but in the important moments like 30-all, 30-40 and so on, I was serving aces.

“I think it’s just important to find these moments, and to push, and, for now, I’m doing well even not being super fresh.”

To win her 12th straight match the 23-year-old fired 10 aces, and was 5 of 9 on break chances as she cruised into the semi-finals, still on course for a ‘Sunshine Double’.

“For sure, I don’t have any pressure,” Rybakina said. “I know that it’s very difficult and not many players did it. Plus I was match point down the other match, so I really don’t think so far in the draw.

“I just need to focus match by match, and I have a tough opponent.”

The last to achieve the ‘Sunshine Double’ was World No 1 Iga Swiatek last year, a player Rybakina admires.

“Iga, she did really well last year, but, even this year, I think, she’s playing really well,” she told the media. “Just unlucky with injury.”

Rybakina maintains her calm demeanour, despite inching closer to becoming only the 5th WTA player to complete the ‘Sunshine Double’, and acknowledges that completing it would be an incredible accomplishment.

“Of course it would be amazing to achieve something like that, but it’s still far away,” she added.

Miami Open Centre Court at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida.

© Clive Brunskill/Getty Images



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