‘S-HERTOGENBOSCH, Netherlands — World No.5 Jessica Pegula showed no signs of rust Tuesday in her first match since April, beating No.70 Aliaksandra Sasnovich 6-2, 6-2 in the first round of the Libema Open.

‘s-Hertogenbosch: Draws | Schedule | Scores

Pegula had not played a match since leading the United States to victory at the Billie Jean King Cup qualifiers two months ago. Pegula picked up a rib injury in the spring and was forced to skip the European clay season.

It was a frustrating turn of events for the 30-year-old American, who was just starting to gain traction on her season. She had made the quarterfinals or better at three of her past four tournaments, including the semifinals in Charleston and San Diego.

But the lingering pain in her rib worsened after Billie Jean King Cup. She was struggling to sleep and felt pain when breathing. After an MRI and multiple visits to the doctors, Pegula was diagnosed with cartilage irritation in her rib cage that had the potential to cause a stress fracture.

“The treatment for both of them is the same,” Pegula said. “So let’s take the safe route, treat it like a stress fracture.

“It’s just such a crazy year with the Olympics squeezed in. With my game, I’d rather be ready for grass and the rest of the hard-court season and grind out the rest of the year, than try and push it for clay and it doesn’t feel well. That’s why we played it safe.”

Pegula did not hit a tennis ball for four weeks after Billie Jean King. Once the rib injury was under control, she slowly started training again, with the goal of playing Roland Garros. If it was any other year, she might have been able to play in Paris. But the stakes are just too high this season and she pulled out ahead of the draw.

“We were training as though I was going to play the French, but it was just a little too soon,” Pegula said. “I’ve been healthy for a few weeks now. If French had started a week later I would have been there for sure.”

Pegula’s patience appeared to pay off in s’Hertogenbosch. Playing her first event since Charleston, she needed less than an hour to see off Sasnovich. She played a clean and disciplined match off the ground, hitting nine winners to just six unforced errors. She broke Sasnovich five times from seven break points, and was broken just once herself.

“I was doing a lot of on-court movement stuff, which was really good because when I came back to playing it didn’t feel like I wasn’t playing,” Pegula said. “I’ve done that before where I take a few weeks off and it’s a rough first week where you just feel so bad. But this time I felt pretty good.”

Not that it wasn’t hard to be stuck on the sidelines as the tour plowed on without her.

“I know in the long term I can play at a high level and I know I don’t need to play those matches to feel like a top player,” Pegula said, “but at the same time when you see all those people going ahead of you, you do freak out a little bit.

“I still have major anxiety that I’ve missed so many WTA 1000s this year and I have a great record at 1000s.”

Since the start of 2020, no one has made more Round of 16s at the WTA 1000s than Pegula. In Rome, Swiatek tied Pegula’s mark of 23. But Pegula has played just two of the six WTA 1000s this season. Her best result came with a quarterfinal run in Miami.

But if she’s played her cards right, she’s primed to attack the back half of the season where she hopes to be fresher than the rest of the field. First, she’s scheduled for a full grass season over the next five weeks, entering Berlin and Eastbourne ahead of Wimbledon. Then comes a transition back to clay for the Olympics at Roland Garros, before playing the remainder of the year on her favorite hard courts.

“I’m fully expecting to grind out the hard courts, especially in Asia after the US Open,” Pegula said. “I didn’t have to do that so much the last few years, but I’ll have to go in fresh and with an open mind that I have to grind a little bit, which is fine.”

As for the state of the WTA Tour since she’s been away? It brings Pegula some comfort to know that the status quo — of which she has been a cornerstone for the last four seasons — is still intact. As a player who hasn’t dropped out of the Top 5 since October 2022, she celebrated the consistency at the top of the game brought on by Swiatek, Aryna Sabalenka and Elena Rybakina.

“Iga dominated the clay season, what else is new,” Pegula said. “Now we go into grass and I’m sure the grass-court players will do well. I feel like I’m walking back into the same kind of thing. That’s good.”

Source: https://www.wtatennis.com/news/4036414/-you-do-freak-out-a-bit-pegula-back-and-ready-to-grind-after-injury-scare

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