Pegula Wins Berlin Final For First Title On Grass

Jessica Pegula (photo: ecotrans Ladies Open | Sascha Feuster)

BERLIN/WASHINGTON, June 23, 2024 (by Michael Dickens)

Jessica Pegula isn’t one who normally shows much emotion – win or lose – on the tennis court. However, considering what the World No. 5 from the United States has endured just to return to the winner’s circle, it’s understandable that there were tears in her eyes after she secured a title victory in the final of the WTA 500 ecotrans Ladies Open in Berlin.

On Sunday afternoon, the 30-year-old Buffalo, N.Y. native saved five match points in remarkable fashion against No. 24 Anna Kalinskaya and defeated the Russian, 6-7 (0), 6-4, 7-6 (3), in two hours and 38 minutes to win her first career WTA Tour title on grass and fifth crown overall. It was her first title on tour since winning at Seoul last October.

“It’s  great to see a women’s final in Steffi Graf Stadium really packed to come watch us,” Pegula said during the trophy ceremony. “We love that. That’s why we play.

“It was a really good match. We left it all out there,” Pegula added. She gave props to her new coach, Mark Merklein, after winning their first title together. “We just started working together not that long ago. So, to get a title, it’s really cool.”

Pegula, who missed the entire spring European clay season due to a neck injury, returned to the tour last week in ‘s-Hertogenbosch and reached the second round. This week in Berlin, she strung together wins over Donna Vekic, Katerina Siniakova, top seed Coco Gauff and Kalinskaya to improve to 17-7. Kalinskaya, who benefited from two earlier wins this week by retirement (over World No. 6 Marketa Vondrousova and World No. 3 Aryna Sabalenka), fell to 20-11 after losing in her second career final. In the end, experience won out.

Kalinskaya, 25, who lost to Pegula in their only previous meeting in 2019 at Washington D.C. (a tournament which Pegula won), came in 3-0 against Top 5 players this year. However, she fell behind 0-3 in the opening set before taking a medical time out to address tightness in her hips. She recovered nicely and went on to win the 56-minute first set a in tie-break 7-0.

Then, Pegula stormed back to win the 38-minute second set 6-4 after breaking Kalinskaya’s serve in the seventh game to send it to a decider. Later, in an hour-plus final set, Pegula rallied from 1-4 down. Then, trailing 5-6, the American saved five championship points during a thrilling 12-point game to force a decisive, third-set tie-break.

In the tie-break, a determined Pegula jumped ahead quickly 6-3 and won it on her first championship point after Kalinskaya hit a ninth-shot forehand beyond them baseline.

“Jess, you’re such a fighter, it’s nice to see you back on tour,” Kalinskaya said during the trophy ceremony. “Couldn’t wish for a better comeback.

“If we played like this against each other every time, I would be happy for both of us.”

Pegula won 66 percent of her first-serve points, converted six of 13 break points and outpointed Kalinskaya 116-113.

Earlier Sunday, Pegula advanced to the final by defeating her friend and doubles partner Gauff. The semifinal pairing Gauff and Pegula was suspended Saturday due to rain, with Pegula leading 7-5, 6-6 (3-1). Upon Sunday’s resumption, Pegula won four of the five points played to win 7-5, 7-6 (2), which advanced to her first grass-court final.

Meanwhile, Kalinskaya reached her second final of the year with a 6-1, 6-7 (3), 6-1 victory over former World No. 1 Victoria Azarenka of Belarus on Saturday.

Later, in her post-match news conference, Pegula spoke positively of her week competing in Berlin. “I knew I could play well on this surface and giving myself a couple of extra weeks on grass clearly paid off,” she said, quoted by the WTA Tour website. “I played some really good tennis this week and I feel like I beat some really good girls, especially on grass. To be able to gut out a win like that is cool.”

By the numbers

In her first 10 career grass court main draw appearances, Anna Kalinskaya had never advanced beyond the round of 16.

“Quotable …”

“It’s fun that we get to compete and play at a really high level on the singles court and doubles court. We practice together, obviously we’re friends. To me, I think it’s more fun. I don’t think it’s that hard. It brings out the best in me knowing that she’s playing at such a high level – No. 2 in the world – I think it just motivates me. It’s a nice relationship.”

Jessica Pegula, during her on-court interview, after defeating her friend and doubles partner Coco Gauff in the semifinal round on Sunday.