FLUSHING – No tennis player is ever happy after a loss.
But Jessica Pegula couldn’t stop smiling in her post-match news conference at the U.S. Open on Wednesday.
The 21-year-old nearly pulled off her second upset this week in the second round of the final Grand Slam of the year, coming within five points of taking down former Top 10 player Dominika Cibulkova.
But playing in front a loud crowd cheering her on that included her parents, Terry and Kim, Pegula couldn’t quite close the deal, falling in three sets, 5-7, 7-5, 6-3.
Still, it was a heck of a past two weeks for Pegula, as she won three qualifying matches last week to reach her first Grand Slam singles draw as a pro, then scored a win on Monday.
“I just had a blast out there; it was so much fun,” Pegula said. “Even after the last point when I lost, seeing the crowd and seeing how pumped even she was, I knew I couldn’t have done much more. I had a blast.”
Pegula’s joy is understandable considering how far she’s come in the past two years. She suffered a serious knee injury in 2014 and missed more than a year off the pro tour, and saw her ranking plummet to No. 257.
But fully healthy now and working with Maria Sharapova’s former coach, Michael Joyce, Pegula showed she’s capable of pulling off big wins. Wednesday she stormed out to a 3-0 lead and won the first set by breaking Cibulkova at 5-all and then forcing an error from her opponent on set point.
In the second set, Pegula jumped out to a 3-1 lead before Cibulkova, herself recovering from an injury and currently ranked No. 50, battled back to even the set at 5-all.
And then came the two points Pegula will be thinking about for months: She had 15-40 on Cibulkova’s serve and a chance to break and then serve out the match.
But Pegula couldn’t convert, as an error and then a Cibulkova backhand slice passing shot sailed by her.
“She hit an incredible shot and I just didn’t have the line covered,” Pegula said. “Maybe in the back of my head I was thinking about serving for the third round, and I didn’t play my best on those points.”
In the third set Cibulkova seemed to grow stronger in the 90-plus degree heat, pounding winners and forcing 49 total Pegula errors in the match.
Pegula had one chance to get back in it, breaking serve to get within 3-2, but she was broken at love immediately, and never got close again.
Still, Pegula is alive in the doubles draw, playing Thursday with partner Melanie Oudin, and she’s encouraged both by her play at the Open and that her knee has held up after five matches in the past eight days.
“I feel good and I had a great time here,” Pegula said. “I gave myself a lot of chances and kept fighting hard. I’d do this again any day.”