By Steve Pratt
CARSON, Calif., (Friday, May 27, 2011) â€“ Itâ€™s been quite a last couple of months for 17-year-old American tennis player Jessica Pegula.
On Feb. 22, her father Terry purchased the Buffalo Sabres NHL hockey team and soon after Pegula began working with Maria Sharapovaâ€™s former coach Michael Joyce. That pairing has helped Pegula crack the Top 400 of the WTA world rankings and has led to two consecutive quarterfinal appearances in USTA $50,000 Pro Circuit events, including this weekâ€™s Carson USTA Womenâ€™s Challenger presented by the Farmers Classic.
Although she fell to top-seeded Italian Camila Giorgi of Friday, 5-7, 6-4, 6-4, Pegula said she took a lot away from her experiences this week. â€œI think Iâ€™m really improving and Iâ€™m right there,â€ said Pegula, who lost in the quarterfinals to Irina Falconi in a third-set tiebreaker at Indian Harbour three weeks ago. â€œI fought through some tough matches the first few rounds and that was really good for me.â€I think if I would have just come forward a little bit more on a couple of points like (Giorgi) did and just got my serves in a couple of more times then I might be here talking about how I won the match instead of how I lost it. But things do always go your way.â€
Also on Friday at Carson, 15-year-old qualifier Taylor Townsend of Stockbridge, Ga., beat former UCLA All-American Yasmin Schnack, 6-4, 6-4, to move on to the semifinals. On Saturday Townsend will face No. 2 seeded Alexa Glatch, who beat No. 8 seeded Chichi Scholl, 6-1, 6-1, in her quarterfinal.
The No. 2-seeded Glatch, 21, was a finalist here in 2008 losing to Mashona Washington in the final. She wants nothing more than to beat Townsend on Saturday in the semis and to get back to the final.
â€œThis has been a great week to be out here and to get some points,â€ said Glatch, of Newport Beach. â€œWeâ€™ve had some great play by the younger USTA girls this week. I feel like a veteran out here and Iâ€™m only 21. I do feel old.â€
Pegula said working with Joyce has made a ton of difference in her game the last few weeks. â€œIâ€™ve improved so much since Iâ€™ve been with him,â€ said Pegula, who is 5-feet, 7 inches tall. â€œI donâ€™t know what it is. It might be the drills. I donâ€™t get bored with them and Iâ€™m the kind of person who gets bored easily. He doesnâ€™t let me get bored and he makes it fun. I think also because I play so much like Maria (Sharapova). Iâ€™m a big hitter like her so itâ€™s easier for him to be successful with me because we have such similar games. I wish I was 6-foot-2 like Maria when Iâ€™m serviing. We seem to click well which is good.â€
Pegulaâ€™s father Terry is described online as a â€œPennsylvania natural gas billionaire.â€ The Buffalo native said her fatherâ€™s purchasing the Sabres in February has been a great thing for her hockey-loving family.
â€œI was a Pittsburgh Penguins fans first but Iâ€™ve always rooted for the Sabres,â€ said Pegula, adding that her momâ€™s parents are from Montreal and root for the Canadiens. â€œAt one point I said, â€˜Dad, why canâ€™t you just buy the Penguins,’ but I donâ€™t think he could ever bring himself to do that. He loves the Sabres too much and has been a huge fan for so long and doesnâ€™t like any other teams.â€
Pegula said she will likely choose to go the pro route soon instead of attending college. â€œI havenâ€™t turned pro yet but Iâ€™m pretty sure Iâ€™m going to,â€ she said. â€œGiven my family situation itâ€™s not like I need the tennis scholarship like some of the girls do which is nice because Iâ€™m so lucky to have that. My parents are like, â€˜yes, go for it.â€™ â€
She said she plans to work with Joyce in Southern California for another week and then head back to Boca to rest for a couple of weeks before another USTA $50,000 event in Boston. She hopes to get a wild card into the U.S. Open qualifying and wants to play the junior USTA National Hardcourts in August. The winner of that San Diego event receives an automatic wild card into the main draw of the U.S. Open.
For more information on the tournament log onto the website at www.usta.com/carsonchallenger.
Friday’s Quarterfinal Singles
WC: Wild card; Q: Qualifier
Taylor Townsend, U.S. [q], def. Yasmin Schnack U.S., 6-4, 6-4
Alexa Glatch, U.S. , def. Chichi Scholl, U.S. , 6-1, 6-1
Camila Giorgi, Italy, , def. Jessica Pegula, U.S., 5-7, 6-4, 6-4
Ashley Weinhold, U.S. , def. Teodora Mircic, Serbia , 7-6 (3), 6-2
Fridayâ€™s Semifinal Doubles
WD Alexandra Mueller, U.S., / Asia Muhammad. U.S.  def. Alexa Glatch, U.S. / Marie-Eve Pelletier, Canada , 7-6 (6), 2-6, 10-6 (super tiebreak)
Christina Fusano, U.S.  / Yasmin Schnack U.S., def. Macall Harkins, U.S.  / Teodora Mircic, Serbia, 7-5. 6-4
WS: Women’s Singles; WD: Women’s Doubles
Court 4 starting at 10 a.m.
WS semis Alexa Glatch U.S.  vs. Taylor Townsend, U.S. [q]
Followed by WS semis Camila Giorgi, Italy,  vs. Ashley Weinhold, U.S. 
Followed by WD final Alexandra Mueller, U.S.  / Asia Muhammad, U.S. vs. Christina Fusano, U.S.  / Yasmin Schnack U.S.