Champions Corner: Coco Gauff and Jessica Pegula Reverse Their Fortunes In Doha

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2022 Qatar TotalEnergies Open doubles champions Coco Gauff and Jessica Pegula join the WTA Insider Podcast to reflect on their surprising week in Doha.

Coco Gauff and Jessica Pegula captured their first team title in style at the Qatar Total Energies Open, coming back from a set down against the No.2 and No.3 seeds to win the first WTA 1000 event of the season. Playing in their fourth tournament together, the American duo rallied to defeat No.2 seeds Ena Shibahara and Zhang Shuai 3-6, 7-5, 10-7 in the quarterfinals and went on to defeat Dubai champions Elise Mertens and Veronika Kudermetova 3-6, 7-5, 10-5 in the final.

“I definitely think we will play together more,” Gauff told reporters after the win. “I mean, how can you not? It’s a 1000. We are going to talk about it and look at the schedule and figure out when to play. I think that after this week it definitely kind of put in perspective that we are a good team.”

Gauff and Pegula joined the WTA Insider Podcast after the triumphant week to reveal how their team chemistry clicked during the Middle East swing and discuss their different approaches to the pressures they face in singles and doubles.

WTA Insider: You both spoke in your press conference about how as a team, you had taken a string of early losses until last week in Dubai. Now you’ve won a WTA 1000 in just your fourth tournament as a team. How did you find your chemistry this week and what was the key to the win?

Pegula: I’ll definitely say that it was nice to get a couple of wins under our belt. We had a really good win first round as well last week, beating the defending champs in Dubai. So I think that helped as well.

And then obviously we had some good singles wins here. Got used to the courts and were really able to kind of work our way into the draw. There’s always going to be a tough tiebreak in there somewhere and we were able to do that. I guess we just were able to kind of find our rhythm a little bit as a team.

WTA Insider: After the tight win over Shibahara/Zhang in the quarterfinals, Coco, you reacted by saying that this was a match you had lost in the past.

Gauff: I said I lost this match so many times in the past (laughing). My record in doubles tiebreakers is just not good. I was like, augh, we can’t lose this one. Also, I played Zhang in the final of the US Open and in that final she played unbelievable and I noticed in this tiebreaker she started to raise her level, playing unbelievable. I was like, augh, she’s playing so good.

That’s why after the match when we won I said I feel like I lost this match, because I got flashbacks to that final. She was on top of the net, serving well, doing everything well and it’s so hard to play. So that’s what I meant by that.

WTA Insider: What was the key to turning around today’s match against Mertens and Kudermetova?

Pegula: We went 1 for 5 or something like that on the [deciding points] in the first set. So we knew we were right there. We knew that we just had to stay in it every single point and keep the pressure on. I think we started playing I-formation a little bit more, giving them a couple different looks. I was being more aggressive at the net. I think it was playing the patterns in the positions a little bit better, just put some more pressure on them.

I think we were able to really take that into the tiebreak early because I know these 10-point tiebreakers are so up and down if you let someone back in. So winning a really good couple of tough points at the beginning of the 10-point tiebreaker and then being able to stay on them was huge because I know how those work sometimes.

WTA Insider: How different is the pressure of going into a deciding match tiebreak in doubles versus going into a third set in singles?

Gauff: For me, it’s definitely different because in a tiebreaker, you’re trying to get the 10 points. In a set, you have six games. You have so much more time to make mistakes. The first three points in the third set – every point matters – but they’re not as important as the first three points in a tiebreak.

The pressure is definitely there. If you’re starting at 0-0, especially in singles if the other person is serving, if you lose that game it’s OK, you’re on serve. But 0-0 in doubles and you’re down 3-0, all of a sudden it’s like holy cow.

That’s kind of how I felt. When it was 4-1, I was like, OK, we’re good. If we switch sides at 4-2, normally in the tiebreak you feel good when you’re switching sides at 4-2 instead of 3-3. That point makes such a big difference mentally. So I was happy that we got that point and I think it was 5-1 when we switched sides.

Definitely more pressure in doubles than the third set than singles. One hundred percent.

Pegula: I agree. It’s just so quick. You can go down like 4-0 so fast. Next thing you know, you’re trying to climb back. I guess a tiebreak in singles is the closest thing. You try to get the mini-break and then you try to hold on to your serve and stuff like that.

But in doubles, there are just so many weird points that can happen. You can get a let-cord, a quick serve, quick return, miss an easy volley, and the next thing you know you’re tied up again and the pressure’s on. So yeah, I thought we stayed aggressive the whole time and really locked in there.

Gauff: Even at 9-4, I wasn’t settled (laughs). Until that ball went out, I wasn’t settled.

Pegula: [The last ball] hit the person in the stands. I was like, I think we won.

I think we were all tight, I don’t know. You just don’t know what’s going to happen.

WTA Insider: On the topic of pressure, Anett Kontaveit said this week that a year ago her mind would play out all the worst-case scenarios when she played a big point, whereas now she’s very positive in those moments. Is that something you both relate to?

Pegula: I think we’ve all experienced that at some point. I can relate to her where I feel like that’s something I’ve gotten better at. It’s nice to hear that’s what she’s saying because she’s been on a tear, like unreal. So it’s good and nice to hear her say that and know that she’s thinking about that too and how she’s changed that.

I think in doubles, I put less pressure on myself because I’m usually on a team and I think I sometimes do better in team atmospheres. I’m nicer to myself. I don’t know about Coco, but that’s usually how I feel for the most part. But I think when you’re focusing on something and staying upbeat and positive it can take your mind off of the bad situations that could happen.

Gauff: For me, I honestly put more pressure on myself in doubles. I’m like, I cannot let the person down. Whereas when you’re in singles like you’re just on the court by yourself and every decision you make is on you.

That tiebreaker, Jess, you were playing unbelievable.

Pegula: I’m not going to lie, I locked in (laughs).

Gauff: I was just there. You could see, I don’t remember which point it was, but I pushed a forehand so soft because I was like, Jessica’s playing unbelievable and I don’t know what I’m doing (laughs). I was just like, I just need to be there and just hang in there and hope she takes care of it for me.

Singles, especially this tournament, even though I lost I was pretty positive to myself on the pressure points and doing better. Whatever happens, happens. But today in that breaker, I was like, I cannot let her down because she’s playing so good (laughs).

Pegula: In doubles, it’s like that. You have one partner and sometimes they’re just playing good and you just let them take over. That happened in the tiebreak again against Zhang and Shibahara, where I felt like Coco really stepped up her level. I don’t think I was playing bad, I think I made a couple of good shots, but she definitely picked it up.

Sometimes it just happens and you just kind of have to flow with it. You don’t want to do too much, you don’t want to overdo it. You kind of just want to be there.

Gauff: And as a partner, I feel like you have to know that. Like in the tiebreaker I was like, you’re serving first. Lately, I’ve been serving first and starting the sets off serving first.

I was like, Jess, you’re serving first, you’re playing good. There’s a certain energy. You can feel when somebody is playing good. She was playing good and I was like, I just need to be at the net and block the ball back. She’s going to handle everything else. So I was like, You’re serving first. I didn’t even ask.

WTA Insider: You both started the Middle East swing by playing each other in singles in Dubai and now you finish it with a doubles title together in Doha. How do you reflect on these two weeks and how do they set you up for Indian Wells and Miami?

Gauff: This Middle East swing definitely helped me with my confidence and everything. Australia didn’t go my way, obviously. So coming here and winning some tough matches against some tough opponents definitely helped. And obviously, the doubles title, winning any title boosts your confidence in singles or doubles. Hopefully we can both can have a good swing in Indian Wells and Miami.

Pegula: This has definitely helped my confidence. I did not feel great in Dubai. Even though we played, our match was terrible. It was so bad.

Gauff: The day after we were like, we both played terrible.

Pegula: We don’t even know what happened. We were double-faulting, hitting random shots. I was not a fan of the conditions there. But we played a little bit better in doubles, which helps.

So to get a couple of good wins here, she had a couple of good wins, that definitely helps going into Indian Wells and Miami. Taking home the title in doubles and just going home, to get to be home for a week and to really, like be excited to go back.

I think it keeps you motivated. I’m excited to go back and practice next week and work on things. I love being in Palm Springs and can really get some good practices in and all that stuff. I’m feeling good. I love being in the States: hard-court season, home.

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