PARIS (AP) — Jessica Pegula quickly gathered her belongings and marched out of Court Philippe Chatrier after a 6-1, 6-3 loss to Elise Mertens in the third round Friday at the French Open, a far earlier exit than the No. 3-seeded American has been used to at Grand Slam tournaments lately.
Pegula was a quarterfinalist at four of the five most recent majors, including a year ago at Roland Garros.
She’s never gone further than that stage at a Slam and never really got into this match against the 28th-seeded Mertens on a day with a breeze at about 10 mph (15 kph) and a chill in the low 60s Fahrenheit (low teens Celsius).
“I feel like I was still playing good points. Elise was just being really tough, not making a lot of errors and making me play every single ball. And with the windy conditions, I felt like it definitely played into her game,” said Pegula, whose parents own the NFL’s Buffalo Bills and NHL’s Buffalo Sabres.
“She returned well and I thought that she used the wind on both sides to her advantage,” Pegula said. “She was playing aggressive on the side with the wind and then, against the wind, I think she was playing some really good defense.”
Mertens is a 27-year-old Belgian who was a semifinalist at the 2018 Australian Open and twice has reached the U.S. Open quarterfinals.
But she still has not made it beyond the fourth round on the red clay in Paris. She will attempt to do that when she plays Sunday against 2021 French Open runner-up Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who beat No. 24 Anastasia Potapova 4-6, 6-3, 6-0.
With Pegula joining No. 5 Caroline Garcia, No. 8 Maria Sakkari and No. 10 Petra Kvitova on the sideline, four of the top 10 women’s seeds already are gone. That’s part of a pattern this year at Roland Garros: Only 12 seeds made it through two rounds, the fewest in Paris since the field expanded to 32 seeds in 2002. With the losses by Pegula and Potapova, only 10 remain.
Another woman from the United States joined Pegula on the way out early Friday: Peyton Stearns, the 2022 NCAA champion for the University of Texas, was eliminated by No. 9 Daria Kasatkina 6-0, 6-1 in 55 minutes.
In other early results Friday, No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka, the Australian Open champion in January, won, as did men’s No. 11 seed Karen Khachanov.
Stearns, a big hitter who defeated 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko in the second round, simply could not find her targets. More than half of Kasatkina’s 59 points came via the 30 unforced errors by Stearns.
Pegula had similar issues, making 28 unforced errors to only 13 by Mertens.
It was a rough start for Pegula. When she dumped a forehand into the net, Pegula chucked her racket off the ground, already down 4-0. The deficit was 5-0 after fewer than 20 minutes.
There was more of the same in the second set. Mertens used drop shots effectively, and Pegula couldn’t get going.
In the opening game of the second set, she put a backhand into the net and bounced her racket off the court. She flubbed a forehand and rolled her eyes.
There was a moment of hope for Pegula when she held to lead 3-2, but then Mertens reeled off the final four games.
Now Pegula will attempt to chase a title in doubles alongside 19-year-old Coco Gauff, whose third-round match in singles comes Saturday against 16-year-old Mirra Andreeva. A year ago, Gauff was the runner-up in singles at the French Open — and she also made it to the final in doubles with Pegula.
“Obviously still a good chance to hopefully kind of go farther than we did last year,” Pegula said about doubles, “so definitely I’m going to be focusing on that now.”