Washington | Pegula gets off the mark but Kostyuk downs Garcia

Top seed Jessica Pegula cruised into the quarter-finals at the Mubadala Citi DC Open but 2nd-seeded Caroline Garcia met her match when she was upset by Marta Kastyuk on Thursday, while the last 2nd-round evening match between Maria Sakkari and Leylah Fernandez was postponed until Friday because of rain.

I definitely want to win the tournament: That's why I'm here. But at the same time, first tournament on hard [courts] in a little while, so you definitely want to get your movement down, you're footing down. Working through, and problem-solving, those things builds confidence, and ideally that's what I want to keep building all the way up until the Open. Jessica Pegula

Pegula is trying to earn a 3rd career singles title at the WTA 500 hard court event in Washington as she tunes up for the final Grand Slam of the year, the US Open.

“I won my first title here with my coach in our first week together and, since then, we’ve just been rising and it’s been an awesome journey,” Pegula said. “That was a very big turning point for me.”

The World No 4 shook off a slow start to defeat fellow American Peyton Stearns, 6-3 6-4, just before the onset of the rain that brought play for the day to a premature close.

Stearns earned her main-draw slot as a lucky loser taking Sofia Kenin’s place in the draw.

The powerful 21-year-old has surged up the rankings over the last 8 months, and, in just her 9th career main-draw appearance on tour, she came into the tournament ranked 59, having defeated Poland’s Magdalena French in the 1st-round.

In her first meeting against Pegula, Stearns struggled to break through the top-ranked American’s baseline consistency.

Playing her first tournament since posting her best result at Wimbledon last month, Pegula showed little sign of rust as she steadily outworked Stearns for the 1-hour and 23-minute match.

Seeking her second title in Washington after winning her maiden WTA title here in 2019, Pegula broke Stearns’ serve 6 times in 13 opportunities, and won a whopping 24 of 39 first-return points, 61.5%.

“I definitely want to win the tournament: That’s why I’m here,” Pegula said. “But at the same time, first tournament on hard [courts] in a little while, so you definitely want to get your movement down, your footing down.

“Working through, and problem-solving, those things builds confidence, and ideally that’s what I want to keep building all the way up until the Open.”

Lucky loser Peyton Stearns struggled to break through Pegula's baseline consistency at Rock Creek Tennis Center in Washington on Thursday

© Rob Carr/Getty Images

The 29-year old, though, has never made it further than the quarter-finals in a Grand Slam, and is coming off a Last 8 loss at Wimbledon, and an exit in the Round of 32 at the French Open.

Each of her two singles titles have come on hard courts, and this event is an opportunity to fine-tune her play as she targets a long run in New York.

“I’m not trying to drastically change anything,” Pegula said. “Just trying little things here and there, and that’s how you build confidence, little by little… not being afraid to try them.”

Thanks to a 1st-round bye, the match against Stearns was Pegula’s first of the tournament.

She likes the rhythm of playing every day and will be back on the court on Friday against Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina, who is on a roll after reaching the Wimbledon semi-finals and knocking off Victoria Azarenka and Daria Kasatkina in this week.

“She’s an amazing competitor, obviously an amazing player,” said Pegula, who brings a 2-1 head-to-head advantage into her quarter-final against Svitolina. “What she’s done after coming back after giving birth, and everything that her country is going through, it’s been really amazing.

“I feel like she’s coming back with a new perspective, a new outlook, and that’s showing on court.

“She’s competing really, really hard, and hasn’t really seemed to skip a beat. It’s going to be really tough.

“It’s going to be a tough match,” Pegula added. “She’s been playing at a high level.”

Marta Kostyuk grabbed the second Top 10 victory of her career with a straight-sets upset of No 2 seed Caroline Garcia in the 2nd-round of the Mubadala Citi DC Open

© Rob Carr/Getty Images

Garcia, the No 2 seed from France, though, won’t be joining Pegula in the quarters, after Kostyuk, another Ukrainian, took her down in just 64 minutes, 6-2 6-3, in the biggest upset of the week so far.

“I was preparing for this match, as it was a difficult and important match,” Kostyuk said afterwards. “I’m glad everything worked out, and I’m happy to be in the quarter-finals.”

Kostyuk has now won her last two matches against Top 10 opposition, having also upset Sakkari in the 1st- round of Wimbledon last month.

“I gained a lot of confidence out of that [Sakkari] match, because I’d been hunting the Top 10 win for a long time,” Kostyuk said. “Once I [got] it, it kind of gave me the boost and the belief that I can win these kind of matches. Hopefully it’s going to stay like this for a long time.”

The 21-year-old already has posted numerous milestones this season, and currently sits at a career-high ranking of No 34, while she won her first career Hologic WTA Tour singles title in Austin, Texas in March.

Kostyuk had 14 winners to just 6 unforced errors against Garcia on Thursday, and she erased the lone break point she faced all day, while the Frenchwoman made 23 unforced errors but only 5 winners.

The Kostyuk backhand was the key shot at critical moments, and she used it to drill a return winner on break point at 1-1 in the opening frame, earning the first of her 2 breaks in that set.

At the very same juncture of the second, Kostyuk sliced a backhand down the line to break Garcia again, and won 17 of her 20 service points in the set.

Fans waved Ukraine’s blue and yellow flag in the stands after Kostyuk broke Garcia to win the match.

She joins Svitolina as women’s players from the war-torn country to reach the quarter-finals in Washington,  with Kostyuk now set to take on No 8 seed and defending champion Liudmila Samsonova in the quarter-finals.

They have faced off twice in 2020, with Samsonova winning both times, once on hard court in Brisbane qualifying, and once on clay in Palermo qualifying.

The last singles match in the round of 16, pitting 4th seed Sakkari of Greece against Canadian Fernandez, was postponed from late Thursday to noon local time Friday due to rain, with the winner to face 7th-seeded Madison Keys in a quarter-final match.

Earlier on Thursday, Canadian Gabriela Dabrowski & Shuko Aoyama of Japan defeated the American duo of Madison Keys & Jennifer Brady, 6-1 3-6 [10-7] in quarter-final action.

Dabrowski & Aoyama will next take on Chile’s Alexa Guarachi & Monica Niculescu from Romania in Friday’s semi-final.

2nd-seeded Caroline Garcia fell at the first hurdle to Marta Kostyuk at the WTA 500 hard court event in Washington

© Rob Carr/Getty Images



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