What’s it like rising to No. 3 in the WTA rankings after spending several years mired outside of the Top 50, enduring multiple surgeries and wondering if a breakthrough will ever come?
American Jessica Pegula has a word for that experience: weird.
“It’s so weird to think that I’m like 3 in the world,” she told reporters on Sunday at the BNP Paribas Open, after edging Anastasia Potapova in three sets. “I don’t even like to say it. It’s awkward. I don’t know – I guess it’s a good thing.”
Pegula’s self-effacing reaction to her elite status on tour doesn’t tell the story of the 29-year-old’s inspiring rise up the rankings over the last two years.
Nor does it give credence the composure and confidence that the American possesses.
Pegula – affectionally tabbed “JPEG” by her growing legion of fans – has been nothing short of excellent since the 2021 season commenced. But to be fair, her rise from the ashes of a career nearly unrealized began before that.
Pegula won her first match at a Grand Slam as a wide-eyed 21-year-old at the 2015 US Open, but wouldn’t repeat the feat for five years. In 2020, with David Witt, the former coach of Venus Williams, guiding her, she finally got her second main draw win at a major. That small step would mark the beginning of a sea change in Pegula’s fortunes.
Finally healthy, and truly in touch with her strengths, Pegula was ready to take her place as the WTA’s most lethal late bloomer.
The bloom has been astonishing. Pegula has gone 27-9 at the majors since the start of 2021, and reached the quarterfinals five times. She’s also been a ringer at the level just below the Slams, winning her biggest singles title at 1000-level Guadalajara last October to prove that she can boss it against the elite.
Her long list of steady results has earned her a reputation as the WTA’s official “Mrs. Consistency” but there’s much more to her game than the ability to be solid week in and week out.
Now firmly entrenched in the rarefied air of the Top 5, Pegula wants more.
— Jessie Pegula (@JLPegula) March 13, 2023
“I would definitely say to go further in a slam or just start winning more tournaments,” she said on Sunday, when asked to describe her next quest.
It’s a credit to Pegula that she has established herself as the most consistent player on the WTA Tour in 2023, but the American is taking the longer view: she sees the consistency as a gateway to her next big breakthrough.
She speaks of her desire to get more pace on her serve, in order to bolster her already lethal brand of first-strike tennis against today’s top players. She expresses a burning desire to turn her movement into more of a strength – the quicker she moves, the quicker she can strike.
And her newfound status as one of the tour’s elite players? Pegula’s not about to let the expectations go to her head. When she takes the court it’s all about the business at hand.
“Of course, maybe people talk about you more, you become a favorite more,” she said. “But at the end of the day, I feel like when I’m out there, that ever doesn’t really enter my mind.
“What enters my mind is just trying to win the match I’m in.”