The WTA Finals this year have already seen a mutiny from disgruntled top players, a questionable court surface featuring numerous awkward bounces and horrendous conditions in hurricane season with unpredictable, gusty wind and frequent rain showers in Cancún, Mexico.
Through all of the turbulence and chaos, though, Jessica Pegula has been a picture of perfect stability. On Saturday evening, she defeated Coco Gauff, the third seed, 6-2, 6-1 in a battle between the top two Americans and the best doubles team in the world to reach the biggest final of her flourishing career.
Djokovic sets up Paris Masters final against Dimitrov after sinking RublevRead more
Pegula remains unbeaten this week and she is just the third player in the last 20 years to reach the deciding game of the WTA Finals without dropping a set.
In the final, Pegula will face either the world No 1 Aryna Sabalenka or Iga Świątek, the second seed, who will have to return on Sunday to complete their semi-final match – with the year-end ranking on the line – after it was suspended due to rain with the score at 2-1 in the first set to Świątek.
A year ago, Pegula’s first WTA Finals appearance ended bitterly as she compiled a dire 0-6 record in singles and doubles, winning just a set in singles. The 29-year-old has returned determined to offer a far greater showcase of her talents against the best players in the world.
In the group stages, Pegula tore through tough opposition with ease, defeating Elena Rybakina, Sabalenka and Maria Sakkari in succession to reach the semi-finals without dropping a set.
As long-time doubles partners, Pegula and Gauff presented an intriguing match-up on paper. The roaring wind and constant rain delays, though, meant this encounter was always likely to be decided by how each player would handle the conditions. Their form during the week, with Gauff struggling to find her feet despite reaching the semi-final, placed Pegula as a clear favourite.
Although Pegula’s game may lack the flamboyance or dynamism of other top players, it is well-built and solid. Her technique off both groundstrokes is clean, efficient and smooth, which she pairs with contained, intelligent attacking tennis.
As Pegula was extremely solid in utterly horrendous conditions, maintaining immaculate depth off both wings while offering no easy points, Gauff simply could not find her range and her forehand constantly broke down in the wind.
“Everyone tells me I’m very technically sound so I don’t think there’s a lot that can go wrong, just mentally and maybe my footwork but that’s gotten a lot better so maybe that’s the improvement,” Pegula said.
The victory is a reflection of another career year for Pegula, who continues to improve with every season. She has compiled a 59-17 (80%) win-loss record this year, 17 more wins than last year, and she has now won 100 matches across singles and doubles, where she is world No 1.
skip past newsletter promotion
Sign up to Australia Sport
Get a daily roundup of the latest sports news, features and comment from our Australian sports desk
after newsletter promotion
As a late-bloomer who spent most of her time on the ITF circuit, Pegula continues to show the value of working hard with a great attitude, patience and humility.
For Gauff, a bitter defeat closes off an incredible season, which saw her bounce back from an extemely difficult summer to clinch her long awaited first grand slam title at the US Open.
The off-season will present a new opportunity in itself as she and Brad Gilbert, her new coach, will have a chance to work on implementing technical improvements to her game, particularly her forehand.
Still, she is not yet finished. At some point over the next day, through the countless rain delays and Pegula’s impending singles final, Gauff and Pegula will return to complete their round robin doubles match against Laura Siegemund and Vera Zvonareva, which was postponed on Friday due to rain.