Will Boucek and I recently covered our first WTA 1000 event in Toronto at the National Bank Open. We enjoyed several great conversations with doubles players for The Doubles Only Podcast and also attended a few press conferences. The story below includes quotes from Jessica Pegula and Coco Gauff following their press conferences in Toronto.
Coco Gauff and Jessica Pegula are taking U.S. women’s tennis by storm in singles and doubles. Almost simultaneously, the two have risen atop the singles rankings in 2022 while quickly becoming one of the best WTA doubles teams.
After winning the Canadian Open doubles title in Toronto last month, both players reached significant milestones in their doubles career. Gauff became the second youngest player (after Martina Hingis) to become ranked No. 1 in doubles. Pegula won her fourth doubles title of the year with three different partners, tying Katerina Siniakova for the most WTA doubles titles in 2022.
Nearly a decade apart, the doubles pair also happens to be the two top-ranked WTA American singles players at No. 8 (Pegula) and No. 12 (Gauff), respectively.
Coco Becoming World No. 1
At age 18, Gauff is now the second youngest WTA player in history to become doubles No. 1 since the current doubles ranking system was introduced in 1984. Martina Hingis, a 13-time grand slam champion in women’s doubles, was only 17 when she clinched the no. 1 ranking in June 1998.
Other top singles players (past and present) who also became doubles No. 1 during their careers include Lindsay Davenport, Kim Clijsters, Serena Williams, Venus Williams, Sam Stosur, and Aryna Sabalenka. When a top singles player with the star power level of Coco Gauff becomes no. 1 in doubles, people start paying more attention to doubles.
Here’s what Gauff and Pegula had to say about Coco becoming world No. 1:
“Being No. 1 is pretty cool. I have no words. I didn’t really know it was coming this week and what I had to do. It didn’t make me more nervous though. I think if it was singles, I would have been more nervous. But yeah, I would say whether I got on tour and started doing well in doubles and my ranking started going up, I realized that No. 1 was possible. As a kid I didn’t know there were separate rankings for singles and doubles.”
“I’m so glad that I could help her get there today. It’s pretty amazing being 18 and being No. 1 in the world in doubles. We’re I think No. 1 in the Race and the top two Americans in singles. So, it’s a cool little journey that we’re on together, even though I’m 10 years older, (laughing). It’s been awesome.”
A Model for Consistency
Gauff and Pegula have built their own reputation for consistency in a WTA landscape undergoing an unprecedented level of depth and inconsistency at the top. Despite having zero singles titles yet in 2022, their results week-in, week-out speak for themselves.
Both have a nearly identical singles record in 2022 with Gauff at 30-16 (65%) and Pegula at 31-16 (66%). In a sport where every player (except the tournament winner) loses each week, achieving a 65+% winning percentage is an impressive feat.
Gauff’s singles highlights include a runner-up performance at the French Open and two quarterfinalist showings in Toronto and at the Qatar Open in Doha. Pegula has also performed well on the big stages with two major quarterfinals under her belt at the Australian Open and Roland Garros. She has arguably played her best tennis at the WTA 1000 level with a runner-up performance in Madrid and a pair of semi-finals appearances in Miami and Toronto.
Pegula and Gauff currently sit at No. 3 and No. 5 in the WTA year-end championships race, respectively. In doubles, they are No. 3 in the 2022 race with two titles in Doha and Toronto. Gauff is currently 21-9 (70%) on the year and Pegula is 26-8 (76%).
Pegula’s doubles success hasn’t been limited to just playing with Coco Gauff. In January, she won the Melbourne Summer Series event with good friend Asia Muhammad. Earlier this summer, she proved her doubles versatility by capturing the Citi Open title in Washington D.C. with Erin Routliffe.
Here’s what Pegula had to say when I asked her about winning titles with three different partners this year:
“When I won with Erin last week, I was thinking that. I was like, Wow, I’ve won three titles with three different people. I guess that’s a good thing. Or I just pick good partners, I don’t know. But, no, I don’t know. I return well. I think that helps. I have good hands. I think I’m quick at the net. And I have good volleys. I think there’s more strategy involved with doubles too and I enjoy picking up on things when playing with different partners.”
Balancing Singles vs. Doubles
With so much success in singles and doubles, it raises an important question… how long will they keep playing both? It’s uncommon to see top players prioritize singles and doubles on a full-time basis due to the game’s increasingly physical nature.
Off-court sponsorship opportunities and promotional engagements also become part of life when you’re a top singles player. This can be a lucrative, yet time-consuming endeavor that many top players choose to prioritize over playing doubles.
Former World No. 1 ATP player Andy Roddick recently weighed in on whether Coco should continue playing a full-time doubles schedule on Tennis Channel and the TC Live Podcast.
“Let’s credit Gauff and Pegula for professionalism first and foremost and well done to Coco Gauff for becoming world no. 1 in doubles. This isn’t usually something that comes easily at a young age. There are a lot of nuances to having success in doubles and finding the right partner than simply just being good yourself. Eventually… she’ll need to make a decision on dropping doubles soon.”
Sorry Andy, but we respectfully disagree. Will Boucek asked Jessica Pegula a similar question about why she enjoys playing doubles and if she’ll continue to make it a priority with more single success. Here’s what she had to say:
“Especially after we won Doha, we have been committed to playing together the rest of the year. I guess it’s worked out well so far because we’re both doing really well in singles and have been playing the same schedule. Our goal is to make year-end championships in singles and doubles…
Playing doubles depends on how I’m feeling health-wise. I love doubles because I obviously love to play tennis and compete. If you lose early in singles, you can still bounce back in doubles and get back into a competitive mode. For me, it helps a lot and doesn’t take that much energy except sometimes waiting around to play if you’re doubled up on the schedule. I won doubles in DC last week and it gave me more confidence going into my singles game this week. I would like to still play doubles next year so we will see how it goes.”
Eyeing Their First Doubles Major in New York
Heading into the 2022 U.S. Open, Coco Gauff and Jessica Pegula will enter the women’s doubles field as the No. 2 seed and the top two ranked American singles players. Are they ready to win their first major doubles title together?
Not only will Gauff have an added layer of pressure as the new doubles No. 1, but she will also be defending her 2021 runner-up ranking points with Caty McNally. From what Coco has shown us in pressure moments in the last few years, she’ll be more than ready for the challenge.
With a title in New York, they would be the first All-American women’s doubles duo to win the U.S. Open in 11 years since Liezel Huber and Lisa Raymond won in 2011. Before that, Venus and Serena won the U.S. Open doubles title together in 2009 and 1999.
Though 10 years apart with different game styles, personalities, and backgrounds, Gauff and Pegula are a shining example of the depth, diversity, and bright future of U.S. women’s tennis in a looming post-Serena era. Meanwhile, they’re sending a message to other top players that it is possible to commit to both singles and doubles on a consistent basis. Let’s hope the message starts to sink in.