Jessica Pegula kept Labor Day weekend spirits high at the 2023 US Open on Saturday, surviving a resurgent Elina Svitolina, 6-4, 4-6, 6-2 to reach the second week in Flushing Meadows for a second straight year.
The No. 3 seed is now a win away from having made the quarterfinals in six of the last eight major tournaments, with only fellow American Madison Keys left to challenge her countrywoman after edging to an one-hour and 50-minute victory on Arthur Ashe Stadium.
“I felt like the first two sets were kind of up and down on both of our ends,” Pegula said after the match. “I think I played a little bit better the first set, she played a little bit better the second set. It wasn’t much. I don’t really think we were playing at the greatest level, but at the same time it makes it hard to get a rhythm.”
Svitolina has been in the midst of a career renaissance since rejoining the tour following a maternity leave that saw her welcome daughter Skaï to her growing family with husband Gaël Monfils.
Jessica Pegula is heading to Round 4. 🌟 pic.twitter.com/6SqphUS5J4
— US Open Tennis (@usopen) September 2, 2023
Employing more aggressive tactics than what initially brought her to a career-high ranking of No. 3 in 2017, she has become one of the major season’s biggest stories with inspiring runs to the quarter- and semifinals of Roland Garros and Wimbledon, respectively. She stunned world No. 1 Iga Swiatek at the latter and has credited new coach Raemon Sluiter with helping revamp her game in the months leading up to her return.
“I feel like she’s playing probably a little bit more aggressive, probably going after her forehand a little bit more,” Pegula said. “She’s still moving very well and still I think playing her game, though, at the same time just being a little bit more aggressive at certain times.
“It makes it really tough because you’re not quite sure what to do as much maybe as before
Back on Arthur Ashe Stadium for the first time since reaching the quarterfinals in 2021, Svitolina fought off an ankle injury to win a thrilling second round against fellow comeback kid Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova to book a rematch with Pegula, whom she lost to in three sets earlier this summer at the Mubadala Citi DC Open.
Svitolina later revealed that the injury, which forced her out of the Western & Southern Open, hindered her in no small amount on Saturday.
“I was a bit struggling also physically, was not as fresh as the matches before,” she said after the match. “Yeah, just a mixture of everything. She strikes the ball well, important points, and served really well, as well.
“I couldn’t match today her level, even though it was three sets. But I felt like in the third set, she stepped up and I couldn’t be there.”
Indeed, Pegula has won her last three matches against Svitolina dating back to the 2021 Australian Open, where the American won in three sets en route to her first of six Grand Slam quarterfinals.
Though she has matched Svitolina in career-high ranking, the last eight has proven a frustrating ceiling for the 29-year-old, but this summer has seen her make further strides on the tour level with a second WTA 1000 title at the Omnium Banque Nationale. Thriving as a favorite through her opening matches, she dropped a combined eight games to Camila Giorgi and Patricia Maria Tig.
Armed with clean technique and easy power, Pegula nabbed the first break of the match as Svitolina struggled for consistency off the ground. Though Svitolina avoided a double-break deficit with the help of some improved serving, Pegula was undaunted and served out the opening set at her first opportunity.
Svitolina spoke of the high standard and perfectionism she brings to each match, which explained some more frustrated moments from the 28-year-old in the second set as errors continued to hinder her efforts to force a final set—letting out a roar as Pegula leveled proceedings at four games apiece.
But the 2019 US Open semifinalist locked in when she needed to most, racing ahead 0-40 to engineer three set points, converting the third with a powerful forehand return, and overall felt positive about her impressive season.
“To be fair, my goal was to enter Top 100 when I started playing in March,” Svitolina said with a smile. “For sure I’m happy with the matches I had. There are some matches, of course, disappointed, and I wish I could play better, like the semifinal Wimbledon, today. Today little bit different situation. Physically I couldn’t push more.
“But in the end, I also didn’t expect for myself such a high level at Wimbledon. Roland Garros, as well, played really solid. In general, I’m very happy with the tournaments that I played, and with the season, I’m close to Top 20…I’m taking a lot of positives from this.”
Pegula ultimately found her footing early in the decider, digging out of a 15-30 deficit on serve as she reeled off the final five games of the match, converting match point in just under two hours as Svitolina sent one last forehand long.
Awaiting her is Keys, who won a three-setter of her own against an in-form Liudmila Samsonova, rallying from a set down to upset the No. 14 seed, 5-7, 6-2, 6-2. Pegula won their only previous meeting in straight sets last fall in San Diego.
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