Jessica Pegula’s magical run at Australian Open 2021 continues, with the American upsetting Elina Svitolina in three sets to reach her first Grand Slam quarterfinal.
Playing intelligent tennis in a poised performance, Pegula notched her first career top-10 victory thanks to the 6-4 3-6 6-4 victory.
It sets up a meeting with compatriot Jennifer Brady, who toppled No.28 seed Donna Vekic 6-1 7-5 on Monday afternoon.
Brady will appear in a second Grand Slam quarterfinal from her last three majors after advancing to the semifinals of the US Open in September.
Pegula will present a tough challenge for her compatriot having also taken down Victoria Azarenka, Sam Stosur and Kristina Mladenovic without dropping a set.
"I'm hitting the ball really well, I thought I served really well, which is really important, especially against the top players. Any extra free points you can get is huge,” she said.
“I'm just happy that I'm competing well, hitting well, moving well. I feel good, everything feels pretty solid, so I’m just gonna take that to the next match.”
While there was joy for Pegula, it was disappointment again for Svitolina, a player seeking her first major title.
'Nothing was going my way'
The fifth seed slumped to her sixth Grand Slam loss to a player ranked outside the top 30 since she became a top-10 mainstay herself in May 2017.
When the Ukrainian is at her best, it is easy to see why she has claimed 15 career WTA titles, including the prestigious Rome, Canada and WTA Finals trophies. Her fighting spirit, relentless counterpunching, impressive athleticism, and pace of shot to turn defensive positions into attacking ones, have helped her become a consistently elite player on the women’s tour.
But she was curiously passive in the early stages against Pegula, rolling balls into the centre of the court and allowing the world No.61 to dictate.
Every now and then, Svitolina forced herself to hit out; an ace and a forehand winner helped her hold for 3-2 after she faced break points. But the same indifferent pattern returned in the seventh game, and after falling behind 15-40, Svitolina double-faulted to hand Pegula a break.
Pegula’s aggression translated to an impressive 10 trips to net for a return of nine winning points, and she held for a 5-3 lead, continuing to boss Svitolina about the court with her hard, flat drives.
Two games later, the American won an incredible 31-stroke rally with a backhand winner to arrive at set point, and converted when she forced an error from Svitolina.
After going down a set and a break, Svitolina wrested control of the match.
In the third game, after trailing 15-40, she played a powerful off-forehand, followed by a swinging volley winner – the first time in the entire match if felt like she had truly unloaded on her shots.
It seemed a turning point; she held serve, broke in the following game, and then extended her lead to 4-1. She arrived at 0-40 in the following game, having won 13 of the last 16 points.
Another factor in that momentum swing was the fact Pegula lost her concentration and began spraying errors. But she began to clean up her game late in the second set and once the third began, she was back in control.
The outcome hinged on a high-quality fourth game, when Pegula played her most aggressive stretch of points in the match and Svitolina worked her hardest to retrieve and stay alive. What unfolded was a succession of exciting points, and Pegula eventually broke for a 3-1 lead with a backhand volley winner.
A few games later, Svitolina broke back as a nervous-looking Pegula began misfiring again – only to hand the break straight back.
Despite her inexperience in this moment and compared with her opponent, Pegula stepped up to the line to serve out the match and successfully completed the task.
All American clash tempts the tastebuds
Pegula's next task will be a mammoth one, for the in-form Brady is yet to drop a set so far at Melbourne Park this Australian Open fortnight.
Brady raced to a 4-0 lead in just 16 minutes against Vekic, who finished the set with three winners against 20 unforced errors.
After winning the first game of the second set, Vekic required a medical timeout to add extra strapping to her already-taped knee. She made it a tougher contest in that second set but appeared physically hampered as the match wore on.
Closing out an injured opponent is tough, but Brady stayed impressively focused, slamming two aces in the final game and winning 11 of the final 12 points to advance.
She signed the camera with “Bring it Jess” – a shout-out to her quarterfinal opponent – before departing Rod Laver Arena.
"Super excited to be in the quarterfinals,” said Brady, who had won 20 of her past 26 matches but is yet to beat Pegula.
“I really had to stay focused there in the second set – I was getting a little ahead of myself but was able to break and then serve probably my best game there at the end.
"When she took the medical I went out and hit some serves., and then after that I was actually starting to feel my serve was a lot better since the beginning of the match. So it kind of helped me out there.”