MELBOURNE, Australia — It’s a long way from Buffalo, N.Y., to the second week of a Grand Slam, which may be why Jessica Pegula’s journey took a while.
The 61st-ranked Pegula reached the fourth round at the Australian Open by drubbing Kristina Mladenovic 6-2, 6-1 Saturday. She’s putting together quite the run, just like her parents’ Buffalo Bills did in the AFC playoffs.
There were no fans in the stands due to the start of a five-day lockdown imposed by the Victoria state government in response to a COVID-19 outbreak at a hotel. Up to 30,000 spectators daily — 50% of capacity — had been admitted on previous days.
Pegula is a Buffalo native and the daughter of Terry and Kim Pegula, owners of the NHL’s Sabres and the NFL’s Bills, who made it to the AFC Championship Game last month after a long drought.
Even Pegula, 26, seemed surprised by her best career showing at a major tournament. She beat two-time Australian champion Victoria Azarenka in the first round, and has dropped a total of four games in the past two rounds.
“I don’t really expect to be playing this good next match,” said Pegula, who trains in Florida. “Some in Buffalo, some in Florida — everyone is watching back home and cheering for me.”
Pegula lost the first six points but then began to dominate with her versatile game. She hit 21 winners to just 13 unforced errors and won eight points at the net.
Her previous best showing at a Grand Slam tournament was a run to the third round at last year’s U.S. Open.
Pegula will next play fifth-seeded Elina Svitolina, who beat No. 26 Yulia Putintseva 6-4, 6-0.
Svitolina, a tour veteran from Ukraine who has won 66 Grand Slam matches, needs one more win to match her best showing in Melbourne. She was a semifinalist at both Wimbledon and...