Perfectionist Pegula breezing through Australian Open so far

MELBOURNE, Jan 20:  As well as Jessica Pegula is playing tennis at the moment, dropping zero sets and just 11 games total along the way to Week 2 at the Australian Open, you might think she’d be completely pleased with how things are going.

Ah, but the No. 3-seeded Pegula is a self-described perfectionist. And so she gave herself a bit of a hard time about what happened late in the second set of her 6-0, 6-2 victory over Marta Kostyuk in the second round on Friday.

“I was annoyed,” Pegula said after the 65-minute contest.

By what, exactly? Well, the 28-year-old from New York was cruising along, having won 10 of the first 11 games and serving with a 30-love lead, when she stumbled ever so slightly, ever so briefly. She missed three first serves in a row. She put a backhand into the net. She got lobbed. She double-faulted. She started muttering under her breath. She sent a backhand long to end an 11-stroke exchange. Add it up, and Pegula got broken there, her lead in the second set shrinking to 4-2. For three minutes, her play was less than ideal.

Oh, the horror.

“When I was younger, it came off as kind of a bad attitude. I’d get really negative or down on myself,” Pegula said, adding that she has worked on “not being so hard on myself during the matches.”

She reached the quarterfinals each of the past two years at Melbourne Park — she has yet to make it past that stage at a Grand Slam tournament — and to get back there, Pegula will need to defeat 2021 French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova next.

The other matchups on the top half of the women’s draw also all include at least one past major title winner: No. 1 Iga Swiatek vs. No. 9 Elena Rybakina, No. 7 Coco Gauff vs. No. 17 Jelena Ostapenko, and No. 24 Victoria Azarenka vs. Either No. 6 Maria Sakkari or Zhu Lin, who were scheduled to face each other Friday night.

Pegula is hardly the only woman who has been rather dominant so far.

Krejcikova, a 6-2, 6-3 winner over Anhelina Kalinina, also hasn’t ceded a set and has allowed her foes to gather a combined 14 games.

Swiatek, a three-time major champion who beat qualifier Cristina Bucsa 6-0, 6-1, has won every set and lost only 15 games. Rybakina, the reigning Wimbledon champ, got past 2022 Australian Open runner-up Danielle Collins 6-2, 5-7, 6-2.

“I feel I’m more and more confident since Day 1 here. I’m not even talking about matches, but also practices,” Swiatek said. “I feel like I’ve done so much work to feel more confident, more relaxed on court.”

Gauff, an 18-year-old from Florida, advanced to a meeting against 2017 French Open winner Ostapenko by defeating Bernarda Pera 6-3, 6-2. Gauff’s opponents have collected all of 19 games through three matches.

She’s also playing doubles with her pal Pegula in Melbourne — and keeping tabs on someone she could meet in the singles semifinals.

“I do watch her (matches), as a friend, I would say,” said Gauff, who lost to Swiatek in the final at Roland Garros last June. “She’s been playing well. She’s always playing well. I feel like she’s just one of those players on tour that is just consistent and plays well. I think she’s always a contender in a Slam. That’s just my personal opinion.”

A high-level showdown for the fourth round was set up in the men’s bracket: No. 3 Stefanos Tsitsipas vs. No. 15 Jannik Sinner. Tsitsipas, a 24-year-old from Greece who lost to Novak Djokovic in the 2021 French Open final, was one point from giving away the second set but held on there and beat Tallon Griekspoor 6-2, 7-6 (5), 6-3.

Another Sunday matchup that was set: No. 6 Felix Auger-Aliassime vs. Jiri Lehecka.

No. 31 Yoshihito Nishioka was a 7-6 (6), 6-3, 6-2 winner over Mackenzie McDonald, who eliminated 22-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal in the previous round.

Late matches Friday included No. 16 Frances Tiafoe against No. 18 Karen Khachanov, No. 7 Daniil Medvedev against No. 29 Sebastian Korda, and No. 10 Hubert Hurkacz against No. 20 Denis Shapovalov.

Sinner, a 21-year-old from Italy, erased a two-set deficit for the first time in his career and grabbed the final 12 games in a 4-6, 4-6, 6-1, 6-2, 6-0 victory over Marton Fucsovics.

“For sure, the first two sets were very tough for me,” Sinner said. “I went on court with one tactic, then I had to change a little bit.”

That worked, eventually. (AP)