For Jessica Pegula, a huge 2023 started Down Under at the United Cup (2024)

2024 United Cup

A year ago, on Jan. 2, Jessica Pegula played one of the season’s first matches at the United Cup in Sydney. On Nov. 6, she played the last, in the WTA Finals in Cancun.

Between singles and doubles, Pegula played 125 matches in 2023. She and partner Coco Gauff were the only players to finish among the Top 5 in both disciplines. Professional tennis features the longest playing season in professional sports. Pegula’s ran 309 days.

United Cup: Scores | Order of play | Draw

“The offseason is so short,” Pegula said Thursday from Perth. “You blink and it’s time to get going again. It’s a tough turnaround. I didn’t have a ton of offseason prep to be honest. I’m being upfront about it.”

Pegula had just finished her first practice in Ken Rosewall Arena -- fast and even a little bouncier than last year’s Sydney venue -- when she chatted with WTAtennis.com. She opens the United States’ defense of last year’s inaugural United Cup title on Sunday, taking on Katie Boulter of Great Britain.

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Fifty-one weeks ago, Pegula scored a milestone victory. With breathtaking speed and efficiency, she defeated Iga Swiatek 6-2, 6-2 in the inaugural United Cup semifinals. It was her first career victory over a reigning No.1-ranked player, and it came after four consecutive losses to Swiatek.

For Pegula, the week in Sydney was the spark that ignited a blazing 2023 season. She won four of five matches Down Under -- including a straight-sets victory over Martina Trevisan to help Team USA to a victory in the final over Italy.

Her play at the WTA Tour 1000s was stellar: finals in Doha, semifinals in Dubai and Miami and then a title in Montreal that featured another win over Swiatek. There was another title in Seoul and a run to the finals in the WTA Finals in Cancun that featured Top 10 victories against Maria Sakkari, Elena Rybakina, Aryna Sabalenka and Gauff.

Pegula finished with a 59-18 record in singles, a 35-13 mark in doubles with Gauff, which included titles in Doha and Miami. She took home a total of nearly $6 million in prize money, making her the seventh highest paid female athlete in 2023. She was also named to the prestigious 30 Under 30 list compiled by Forbes Magazine.

Pegula is a little “sad” the new best-of-three format features only one men’s and women’s singles match, along with mixed doubles. A year ago, with a best-of-five structure, Pegula, Madison Keys, Taylor Fritz and Frances Tiafoe went a collective 18-2 in singles.

“What made our team so great last year was our depth was great,” Pegula said. “We knew each other, but I don’t think we knew how we were all going to get along being with each other all the time for a week straight. We had so much fun as a team. Obviously, winning was great. But we really bonded on and off the court, which was kind of unexpected for all of us.

“We all had really great starts to the year, and I feel like a lot of it came from the week we had down here. It felt like it gave us so much momentum. It gave me a lot of confidence.”

Fritz and Tiafoe, Pegula reported, drastically upped the swagger quotient.

Jessica Pegula and Taylor Fritz explain how #UnitedCup format change could impact Team USA's title defense chances.

Read: https://t.co/H85XfCie4d

— WTA Insider (@WTA_insider) December 29, 2023

“I feel like they have a different kind of vibe and confidence that they bring maybe to girls,” she said. “More trash-talking and more fun -- things I think girls aren’t really natural at. It kind of gave us confidence, put some pep in our step -- that we need to start thinking like this more often.”

While Pegula artfully spun most of the individual questions back into team-centric answers, she did allow that the Swiatek win was a game-changer.

“Being able to play one of the cleanest matches I’ve played ever against such a top player was really cool,” Pegula said. “I was playing a high level all year and getting more wins over the girls I hadn’t beaten in a little while. Beating [Aryna] Sabalenka, beating [Elena] Rybakina, beating Maria [Sakkari] a couple of times -- that gave me confidence. I was able to handle those situations better than I have in the past.”

One thing she hasn’t handled particularly well is matching her many non-Grand Slam triumphs at the majors. Over the past three seasons, Pegula has reached six Grand Slam quarterfinals in singles -- but never the semifinals. At the age of 29 (she turns 30 at the end of February), Pegula is playing the best tennis of her life. After finishing the 2020 season at No.62, she soared to No.18 in 2021, No.3 in 2022 and No.5 in 2023.

Three different times on her media rounds, she was asked about her goals for 2024 -- a polite way of addressing the only thing missing from her resume: a Grand Slam singles semifinal or final or title. How, one reporter asked, do you take that next step?

“I mean, pretty much what I’ve been doing,” she said. “So I think if I keep doing that, I’ll be good. When you’re talking Top 5, the margins are so small. Winning one 1000, going deep in a Slam or winning a Slam, it’s very, very, very small margins. When you try to overthink it so much it can definitely backfire.

“So to me, it’s not overthinking it. I’ve been doing great the last couple of years. I’ve had many chances. I feel like I’ve improved every single year as far as going deeper. I can’t really ask for too much more, maybe just to go deeper in Slams. I’m right there every time so it’s hard to really nitpick on what I need to do better.”

For Jessica Pegula, a huge 2023 started Down Under at the United Cup (2024)
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