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By Richard Pagliaro | Wednesday, May 12, 2021


Jessica Pegula shocked second-seeded Naomi Osaka 7-6(2), 6-2 for her fifth Top 10 win of the year in a wild day of upsets in Rome.

Photo credit: Clive Brunskill/Getty

Commanding the center of the court, Jessica Pegula delivered unforgettable win in the Eternal City.

In her Rome debut, Pegula shocked second-seeded seed Naomi Osaka 7-6(2), 6-2 reaching the round of 16 at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia with her biggest career victory.

More: Serena Seeks Fresh Start in Rome

In a match of two players most at home on hard courts, Pegula adapted to dirt more effectively.

"She's obviously been unbeatable kind of on hard court, and I knew I just had chances today to beat her," Pegula said. "I just thought I played solid and I played a good match. I was tough mentally.

"Again, I'm just going to try and take all the confidence I can from this match. Obviously probably my highest-ranked win. Yeah, so I think it's good no matter what, basically."

Top 10 players can cast imposing shadows across the court, but Pegula often brings her best aganst the elite.

The world No. 31 scored her fifth Top 10 victory of the season. Pegula toppled fifth-ranked Elina Svitolina en route to the Australian Open quarterfinals and scored hard-court wins over Karolina Pliskova in Doha, where she played through qualifying to reach the final four, Dubai and Miami.

Pegula played a cleaner match under pressure denying three set points in the opener before running through the tie breaker.

In the second set, Pegula redirected Osaka's drives down the line to open the court.

"I think I started off a little slow. I was a little annoyed," Pegula said. "I didn't make many first serves. Against someone that hits as big as her, I was getting frustrated. I was, like, This isn't going to work if I don't start putting in some serves.

"So I definitely started off frustrated but was able to get back into the match. Saved I think maybe a few set points...

"I knew I was right there. I knew if I could just hang in there and play my service games smart, I could get opportunities on her serve. I did in the tiebreak especially. So, yeah, I thought I toughed out the first set mentally, and then the second set I started to play better and I think she was starting to show more frustration."

The American broke one of the game's premier servers three times in a row surging through the final three games to close an inspired 87-minute upset.

Osaka's struggles on clay continue. The 2019 Rome quarterfinalist isn't as comfortable moving on the slow surface as she is on hard court where she's captured four Grand Slam titles.

The reigning Australian Open and US Open champion's finishing power isn't as profound on dirt and she isn't as sure-footed coming out of the corners of the court. Still, Osaka put herself in position to take a one-set lead but could not close it. 

Osaka scattered 37 errors across the clay—16 more than the American—while Pegula pumped 22 winners, which was two more than the world No. 2. Pegula, who played on Har-Tru, commonly called American green clay, in her younger years believes Osaka will eventually adapt her aggressive baseline game to dirt. 

"I'm sure she will be fine on clay eventually," Pegula said. "She has a good game for it, so I'm sure she'll adjust. Yeah, it can be frustrating on a surface when you're just not feeling comfortable.

"She's obviously dominated on hard court, so it's just different. But I'm just trying to figure it out, and I have been feeling more and more comfortable every day."

While Osaka will go back to court on her clay movement and transition game, Pegula moves on to face Ekaterina Alexandrova for a quarterfinal spot. Alexandrova advanced on a walkover from Australian Open finalist Jennifer Brady.

World No. 1 Ash Barty converted five of six break points in a 6-4, 6-1 sweep of Yaroslava Shvedova. Next up for Barty is Russian Veronika Kudermetova.

Former French Open champion Garbine Muguruza battled back from a double-break down in the decisive set winning six of the last seven games subduing American qualifier Bernarda Pera 2-6, 6-0, 7-5.

The 12th-seeded Spaniard will play Elina Svitolina next. No. 5-seeded Svitolina edged Amanda Anisimova 2-6, 6-3, 6-4.

Teenager Coco Gauff topped 17th-seeded Maria Sakkari 6-1, 1-6, 6-1.

Gauff will play Madrid champion Aryna Sabalenka next with the winner taking on the Barty-Kudermetova winner.

The fourth-ranked Sabalenka has split two prior meetings with Gauff with both going the three-set distance. Gauff topped Sabalenka 6-4 in the third set in Lexington last summer before Sabalenka avenged that loss with a 1-6, 7-5, 7-6(2) win in Ostrava.


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