The tennis partnership between Jessica Pegula and David Witt got off to a roaring start. Only a number of days after their first rehearsal, Pegula arrived in Washington, D.C., for the Citi Open with Witt, her latest coach, and went on to win her first WTA singles title.
That was in 2019, when Pegula was ranked No. 79 and still learning to trust her body and talent after major knee and hip injuries.
“At first, it was more me pounding it into her head that she’s really good,” Witt said. “And that she will beat these people and that there’s no one higher and whether or not they are top 10 or 20, it doesn’t matter.”
Three years later, Pegula is a real member of the tennis elite: at No. 3 on the planet in singles per week after winning her second profession singles title in Guadalajara, Mexico, and beating 4 former Grand Slam singles champions along the way in which.
The highest-ranked American, Pegula is one in all the headliners of the WTA Finals — the year-end championships of the ladies’s tour, reserved for the highest eight players — starting Monday in Fort Price. It is going to be her first appearance within the exclusive event, and that has extra resonance for Pegula since it comes on the relatively advanced tennis age of 28.
“In fact, I might have liked success younger, but I don’t know if it will have panned out the identical,” she said in a recent interview. “I don’t think it will have. So, I’m particularly appreciative of it now. If I didn’t undergo all of the stuff I went through, I don’t think I might have developed the type of strength that I believe I used to assist me do well now.”
Pegula comes from an overachieving family. Her parents are Terry and Kim Pegula, the billionaire owners of the N.F.L.’s Buffalo Bills and N.H.L.’s Buffalo Sabres. Terry Pegula made a fortune in natural gas and real estate and married Kim, who was born in South Korea but abandoned by her biological parents and later adopted at age 5 by a family in the US.
“I believe my mom was left on police station steps,” Jessica Pegula said. “It’s a crazy story. It might be like a movie.”
Kim has been facing significant health issues for the reason that summer, which the Pegulas have acknowledged publicly without providing details. Jessica, tearing up, dedicated her victory in Guadalajara to her mother.
“My mom all the time type of joked I used to be the primary sports team so far as helping me with my tennis profession growing up,” Pegula told reporters in Guadalajara. “I definitely desired to dedicate it to her. She’s had a extremely tough 12 months. I do know she was watching.”
Pegula plans on giving her mother plenty more tennis to observe in the following two weeks. After the WTA Finals, she’s going to travel to Glasgow to steer the US within the finals of the Billie Jean King Cup team event.
It is going to be a grueling finish to a busy season, one which No. 1 Iga Swiatek is not going to attempt. Swiatek declined to play within the King Cup finals for Poland, explaining that the tight, intercontinental turnaround put her prone to an injury.
Pegula agrees that the scheduling is removed from ideal. She wants the team experience she missed last 12 months when she needed to withdraw from the King Cup finals; she tested positive for the coronavirus shortly after her wedding to Taylor Gahagen in October and needed to spend what she called “a Covid honeymoon” at home in Boca Raton, Fla.
“I definitely need to go,” she said of Glasgow. “I believe it’s a superb problem to have if I’m within the finals of each. So, it’ll be a troublesome turnaround, but it surely’s a troublesome two weeks after which I’m done. It’s like a reward.”
Pegula’s best season has been about juggling all of it: newfound success, newlywed life, her skin-care business and a spot on the WTA player council within the midst of a politically and financially fraught time for the tour.
She is desperate to develop skills that might translate right into a role along with her family’s sports franchises after her tennis profession is finished. She said she has learned to feel at home outside her comfort zone.
“Player council, I used to be really nervous,” she said. “I didn’t know if I knew enough, but I felt that if I used to be afraid to do it, then I should probably do it. I wish to put myself on the market and learn through different experiences. At one point, I’m probably going to need to say no, but I like saying yes, and my mom all the time told me to say yes and to do loads of things and put yourself in numerous situations too.”
Her agenda will likely be packed again this week. Pegula has qualified in singles and in doubles with Coco Gauff, her 18-year-old compatriot. Pegula and Gauff, who’s ranked No. 4 in singles, are the one competitors playing each events in Fort Price.
Pegula and Gauff each extol the advantages of playing each events recurrently on tour for fine-tuning their games and lifting among the pressure from the singles result. They’ve teamed as much as win three doubles titles in 2022, also reaching the French Open final.
Asked for one word that summed up her partner, Gauff thought for some time before deciding on “resilient.”
That rings true despite Pegula’s privileged upbringing, which alleviated concerns in regards to the training and traveling costs that pose obstacles for a lot of other tennis talents.
“It doesn’t matter how much money you’ve got,” Witt said. “It’s something inside that drives you to need to win. A whole lot of people probably say, she doesn’t need to play tennis, but what would anyone do to satisfy that competitiveness in the event that they didn’t play a sport or challenge themselves with something? I’m sure there’s loads of people on the market that may have never thought in 1,000,000 years that Jessica can be top 10 or top five. But they don’t know her as an individual. They don’t know the way hard she works.”
Witt, a 6-foot-3 former touring pro from Florida who had an enormous serve and forehand, struggled to duplicate his junior success on the predominant circuit. But he has now proved himself twice as a top-drawer coach, working with Venus Williams, first as a hitting partner after which as a coach, for 11 years before they split at the tip of the 2018 season.
Pegula and Witt clicked from the beginning; they’ve develop into regular golfing partners and infrequently travel without some other support team members.
“Dave’s very calm, laid back a bit bit, but at the identical time super competitive,” Pegula said. “He’s a superb fit for me because I’m type of similar. Not loads of things get me fired up or revved up, but I’m also very competitive. A whole lot of times growing up, I didn’t really know methods to balance that. It was like, ‘You should show more emotion.’ But that’s not me.”
Pegula just isn’t an explosive, acrobatic mover like Gauff or Swiatek; she’s not a flashy shotmaker like No. 2 Ons Jabeur. But Pegula is a clean hitter with world-class timing and many pop in her groundstrokes and improved serve. Unlike some baseline bashers, she also has a Plan B and C and is ever more comfortable at net. In Witt’s view, her even-keel approach (excluding the occasional thrown racket) allows her to channel her energy effectively during matches.
Her progress with Witt has been regular and increasingly heady. She was ranked No. 62 at the tip of 2020 and No. 18 at the tip of 2021 after reaching her first major quarterfinal that 12 months on the Australian Open. She is now inside range of the No. 2 rating after reaching three more Grand Slam quarterfinals in 2022, losing to the eventual champion in all three — including one other loss to Swiatek on the U.S. Open in September, after which she sipped a beer in a downbeat post-match news conference.
Pegula now expects more. The considered winning a significant singles title still makes her uncomfortable, but that seems all of the more reason to extend the pace of the chase. Stagnation, as Novak Djokovic once said, is regression.
“Exactly,” Pegula said. “That’s perfect.”