FLUSHING MEADOWS – When you’re forced to qualify for a Grand Slam tennis tournament, you are the mercy of the draw gods.
Sometimes, you get to play a fellow qualifier in the first round. Other times, you have the “honor” of facing the fourth-best player in the world.
Buffalo’s Jessica Pegula unfortunately met the latter fate Tuesday night. Playing on Louis Armstrong Stadium at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, Pegula was outclassed and outplayed by No. 4 seed Aga Radwanska, falling 6-1, 6-1 in 55 minutes.
“Yeah, she was definitely on tonight and just giving me a lot of problems,” a fairly cheerful Pegula said after the drubbing. “It would’ve been nice if she missed one or two balls within the first few games, you know? If she could’ve just missed one or two, that would’ve helped me a lot.”
From the start this one was a mismatch, as Pegula, playing on a show court at the Open for the first time, couldn’t find the range on her groundstrokes. All the consistency and power she showed last week while winning three qualifying matches seemed to disappear, as it took until the fourth game for Pegula to win a point against Radwanska, a former Wimbledon finalist.
The Polish native Radwanska didn’t make an unforced error until late in the first set, and had only four unforced errors the entire match, to Pegula’s 34.
Pegula, ranked No. 138, rallied a bit to start the second set, and tried to force the pace by attacking the net. But Radwanska’s combination of lobs and slice passing shots kept Pegula stymied.
“I was just happy in the first set not to get bageled,” Pegula said. “Then I started loosening up, but she puts so much pressure on you to win every single point because she just doesn’t give you much to work with.”
Pegula said she had an odd premonition last Friday after qualifying that the draw might not be to her favor.
“It’s funny, I actually looked at the draw beforehand and I had this weird feeling I was going to play her,” Pegula said. “But you know, it’s a good experience to play her; she’s the highest-ranked player I’ve ever played and I can learn a lot from Aga.”
It was a far cry from last year’s Open for Pegula, who turned three qualifying wins into a first-round victory in the main draw before falling in the second round.
But still, the accomplishment of making the main draw two years in a row is what Pegula said will stick with her, not the sting of Tuesday night. And Pegula isn’t done at the Open; she and partner Samantha Crawford received a wild card and have their first-round match on Wednesday.
“To qualify two years in a row is pretty cool, and I think it’s going to give me momentum going into my next tournament in Quebec City,” Pegula said, alluding to a WTA event that starts on Sept. 12. “Tonight was just really tough, but Aga’s a great player and she really played great and I looked bad.”