America’s Jessica Pegula pulled off a big upset at the Australian Open on Monday when she beat the No 5 seed from the Ukraine, Elina Svitolina, 6-4 3-6 6-3, to advance to the quarter-finals where she will meet compatriot Jennifer Brady, a straight sets winner over Croatia’s Donna Vekic.
Jen [Brady] is an awesome person. She's a great person. She was texting me, I'm so happy, I'm so proud... It's an opportunity for both of us. I'm just happy I'm here. She's been playing some good tennis, solidifying herself as a top player. We've all been pushing each other. Why not push each other into a quarter-final, then one of us be in the semis? Jessica Pegula
The two are good friends and their match-up will ensure there is at least one American in the semi-finals, with Serena Williams slated to meet Simona Halep, the World No 2 in the 4th quarter-final.
“Jen is an awesome person,” Pegula told a news conference. “She’s a great person. She was texting me, I’m so happy, I’m so proud.
“This is awesome… It’s an opportunity for both of us. I’m just happy I’m here. She’s been playing some good tennis, solidifying herself as a top player.
“We’ve all been pushing each other. Why not push each other into a quarter-final, then one of us be in the semis?
“That’s what we’re here to do. We’re here to have fun and compete. If I can do it against somebody that I like, that I wouldn’t mind if they beat me, hopefully not, but if they did, why not?”
It has been a dream run for Pegula, who was made to struggle in the second set at Rod Laver Arena but regrouped in the decider, breaking Svitolina, a former Wimbledon and US Open semi-finalist, in the 4th game before locking down her first win over a top 10 opponent.
Matching Svitolina’s power off the baseline, Pegula rushed the net to knock her opponent off her stride and sealed the win on her 1st match point when the Ukrainian netted a return.
“I thought I served really well pretty much the whole time,” Pegula said after the match. “I think that I kind of got a little tentative in the second set.
“I played a good game to break her, then I didn’t hold serve. That was huge.
“I’m just happy that I reset at the start of the third. I think that’s huge. Obviously you know you’re going to go three sets eventually.
“I think the way I kind of switched the momentum and turned it around was really, really important.
“I can’t get more confident, it is my best result yet and I’m playing good tennis and today was a hard fought win, so, yeah, I’m feeling pretty good.”
Pegula considered giving up tennis after being sidelined for long periods with knee and hip injuries earlier in her career and, at 26, in many ways is playing catch-up with her contemporaries, but having taken down Victoria Azarenka, Sam Stosur and Kristina Mladenovic without dropping a set here, she is now set for the big stage.
Svitolina had her chances but slumped to her 6th Grand Slam loss to a player ranked outside the top 30 since she became a top-10 mainstay herself in May 2017.
When the Ukrainian is at her best, it is easy to see why she has claimed 15 career WTA titles, including the prestigious Rome, Canadian and WTA Finals trophies but she was curiously passive in the early stages against Pegula, rolling balls into the centre of the court and allowing the World No 61 to dictate.
“It was not a good day for me today. I was making way too many errors,” Svitolina admitted. “Yeah, tough to pick why was like this. A mixture of things.
“I think she also played quite good today. It was very tough for me to find the rhythm because she was playing good in the first set, not very well in the second. Then she came back.
“I didn’t feel very good today on the court. I don’t know. It’s disappointing because I’ve been playing very good. I feel it was that kind of day where nothing was going my way.”
In all, Pegula nearly doubled Svitolina’s total of winners, 31 to 19, and was successful at net, winning the point on 21 of her 29 trips into the forecourt.
Svitolina forced herself to hit out at times, and an ace and a forehand winner helped her hold for 3-2 after she faced break points, but the passiveness returned in the 7th game and, after falling behind 15-40, she double-faulted to hand Pegula a break.
The American held for a 5-3 lead and as she continued to boss Svitolina about the court with her hard, flat drives, she arrived at set point 2 games later after an incredible 31-stroke rally, and converted when she forced another error from Svitolina.
After going down a set and a break, the Ukrainian wrested control of the match with a powerful off-forehand, followed by a swinging volley winner in the 3rd game, which proved a turning point as she held serve, broke in the following game, and then extended her lead to 4-1.
Arriving at 0-40 in the following game, Svitolina had won 13 of the last 16 points, and she rode out the set to force the decider.
Pegula resurged, producing sustained power to secure the decisive break in the 4th game of the final set but. a few games later, Svitolina broke back as the nervous-looking American began misfiring again, only to hand the break straight back.
Despite her inexperience of the moment, Pegula stepped up to the line to serve out the match and successfully completed the task after an hour and 55 minutes.
Pegula’s next task will be a mammoth one, for the in-form Brady has yet to drop a set so far at Melbourne Park this AO fortnight.
In the second match on RLA, Brady, the No 22 seed raced to a 4-0 lead in just 16 minutes on her way to earning a 6-1 7-5 win over Donna Vekic, seeded 28, in an hour and 34 minutes.
Vekic was hampered by an injury to her right leg and took a medical timeout at the start of the second set after being blitzed by Brady in the opener.
She emerged with fresh strapping above and below her knee and although she managed to take the fight to Brady in the second set, the Croatian was barely moving in the final 2 games.
With the score tied at 5-5 Vekic surrendered her serve to love, a double-fault handing Brady the chance to serve for the match, and the American made no mistake, sealing victory when her opponent fluffed a forehand.
Closing out an injured opponent is tough, but Brady stayed impressively focused, slamming 2 aces in the final game and winning 11 of the final 12 points to advance.
She signed the camera with ‘Bring it Jess”’, a shout-out to her quarter-final opponent.
“Super excited to be in the quarter-finals,” said Brady, who had won 20 of her past 26 matches but is yet to beat Pegula.
“I really had to stay focused there in the second set – I was getting a little ahead of myself but was able to break and then serve probably my best game there at the end.
“When she took the medical I went out and hit some serves., and then after that I was actually starting to feel my serve was a lot better since the beginning of the match. So it kind of helped me out there.”
Brady and Pegula have played once before, at last summer’s Western & Southern Open in a tight match that was won by Pegula, 7-6(5) 6-4.