By HOWARD FENDRICH
AP Tennis Writer
WIMBLEDON, England (AP) — Jessica Pegula heard the jokes from other players at Wimbledon: “They’re like, ‘Did you play yet? You still haven’t played?!’ And they’re already on their second-round matches.”
The 28-year-old American, who is seeded No. 8 at the All England Club, finally got on court on Day 3 of the tournament to play her first grass-court match of 2022 — and Pegula won, eliminating Donna Vekic 6-3, 7-6 (2) on Wednesday.
Now Pegula will be scheduled to be back out there Thursday, trying to get to the third round at Wimbledon for the first time.
Pegula almost did not enter the grass-court Grand Slam event at all. Her mother, Kim, was hospitalized in Florida about two weeks ago for what her family described then as “some unexpected health issues.” That was shortly after Jessica returned from the French Open, where she reached the quarterfinals in singles plus the final in doubles, alongside Coco Gauff.
Pegula’s parents own the NFL’s Buffalo Bills and NHL’s Buffalo Sabres.
“She’s doing a lot better now. That’s why I’m here. If she wasn’t doing well, I probably wouldn’t have come. I flew out Wednesday last week, and within that time she was in a really good condition, where I felt like everything was fine, and I felt like my family had everything under control. She’s progressing and she’s been doing rehab,” said Pegula, who faces Harriet Dart of Britain next. “I felt comfortable coming here. But that’s why I didn’t play any warmup tournaments.”
Pegula said her husband and other members of the family are with Mom and have been passing along regular updates.
“I hope,” Pegula said, “she got to watch me play today.”
While Pegula has a game that suits hard courts well — and she’s made the quarterfinals at the Australian Open the past two years on that surface — she is displaying more and more ability to adapt and find success elsewhere.
After her breakthrough on the red clay of Roland Garros earlier this month, she looked right at home on Court 17 on Wednesday against Vekic. Pegula finished with one more winner and far fewer unforced errors, 34-20.
The contest originally was scheduled for the day prior but got pushed back after rain delays slowed the progress of earlier matches Tuesday.
“I was kind of happy that it got postponed, because I think it would have been hard to start the match and then stop it and then have to come back,” said Pegula, who works with David Witt, the former longtime coach of five-time Wimbledon champion Venus Williams. “That’s a lot more nerve-wracking, so I was OK with it.”
And as for the grass? She lost in the first round at the All England Club in 2019 and the second round in 2021.
“A lot of people tell me my game would be really good for grass, because I hit really flat and hit through the court. When I first played on grass, I really liked it, because it was quicker and suited my game. But the courts have slowed down a lot and so I didn’t enjoy it as much the last few years,” Pegula said. “I feel a lot better on it this year than last year, even though I played more on grass last year. Maybe I’m wrapping my head around moving on it. That’s a big part of it. Sometimes you can just feel really, really awkward. I’ve been feeling better gradually. And today it felt real good.”
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