Jessica Pegula applauds the Buffalo Bills at the Australian Open

MELBOURNE, Australia — As a Pittsburgh Steelers fan whose parents ended up buying the Buffalo Bills from the NFL, Jessica Pegula has had...


MELBOURNE, Australia — As a Pittsburgh Steelers fan whose parents ended up buying the Buffalo Bills from the NFL, Jessica Pegula has had to adapt. But she’s in depth now, extolling the leadership virtues of quarterback Josh Allen even as she takes part in the Australian Open tennis tournament, and takes to the court in an outfit whose hues of red, white and blue evoke the colors of the Bills, thanks to its sponsor. think ahead.

“It was so random, but I think it’s perfect,” Pegula said.

She even signed the camera lens after her third-round singles win with a neat note that read, “Bills you’re next.”

“I’m like come on, I backed myself up, now you gotta get the win,” Pegula said with a chuckle before the Bills’ divisional playoff game against the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday.

Racking up wins would be a result to savor for the Pegula family, and Jessica provided another solid run under.

It was in Australia that she kicked off her breakthrough season in 2021 by reaching the quarter-finals. At 27, she is poised to return to the top 20, win or lose in her fourth-round rematch with Maria Sakkari, who saved six match points before beating Pegula in the round of 16 at the Miami Open last year in a memorable topsy-turvy duel.

But Pegula bounced back from the worst. A privileged child by her own admission, she showed perseverance and courage in her quest to become a Grand Slam contender. Yes, she had access to private coaching and abundant support from her family: her 70-year-old father, Terry, is a billionaire businessman who made his Wealth of $5.7 billion mainly in natural gas and in property development.

But Pegula had to overcome major knee and hip surgery in his late teens and early twenties which required extensive rehabilitation before finally breaking into the top flight.

“She rode twice and had to do it again,” said Michael Joyce, who coached her for six years, starting in 2011 after coaching Maria Sharapova. “Jessie could easily have thrown in the towel obviously with her family and her situation, and the fact that she kept coming back was special. A lot of people would have said, ‘Fuck off, I’m done’, especially in her place.”

Tennis, with significant training and travel costs, is an expensive sport to master at a high level, but highly ranked stars from ultra-rich backgrounds are rare on the circuit. Pegula may be the first on the women’s circuit since Carling Basset, daughter of Canadian brewery executive John Bassett, broke into the top 10 in the 1980s.

“I know a lot of people from very wealthy families who are good enough, good enough to play college or something, but they usually fall apart,” Joyce said.

Pegula said she sometimes felt embarrassed by her family’s wealth, fearing it would make others uncomfortable. Joyce said she’s often hesitant to hold practice sessions with strangers at the family’s luxurious home in Boca Raton, Florida, with its two tennis courts — clay and hard.

“I was maybe trying to hide it a bit,” Pegula said. “Then I think I kind of embraced it a bit, not like too much, but I think once I got more comfortable and knew I was doing the hard work and stuff that I was, like, hey, I have a different story, but maybe it’s a cool story. Maybe it’s okay if I kiss the bills and the teams a little more and stuff like that.

She added: “But I’ve always been pretty low key. I don’t like to show off, and I think that’s also why I’ve been successful.

Terry and his wife, Kim Pegula, who was born in Seoul and raised in Fairport, NY near Rochester, bought the NHL’s Buffalo Sabers in 2011 when Jessica was 17. bought the bills in 2014 for $1.4 billion.

It was only then that Pegula said she became fully aware of her family’s wealth, but that didn’t change how she felt about tennis.

“I’ve always been super driven, before the bills and the money and all that,” she said.

“That’s always what I wanted. So when all of this happened to me later in life, people were like, ‘Why are you doing this?’ And I’d say, ‘I don’t understand. It hasn’t changed since I was 6 or 7. Why would that change now?’

Pegula said she came to believe she had a responsibility to bring justice to her benefits.

“I have this amazing opportunity. Why would I want to sabotage this if I really love what I’m doing? she said. “I’m not afraid of the fact that people don’t have as many opportunities, and I think people are realizing more about the importance of giving everyone equal opportunities. But I didn’t choose the life I was meant to have. You’re sort of born into it, and I think everyone gets a different hand. That’s how we handle it, and I’m glad I was able to do him justice and not take him for granted. To me, it would be selfish to do that a disservice.

Pegula said she learned to “accept the grind” – the physical training, workouts and preventative work now required to keep her healthy after the injuries that could have ended her career.

At 5-foot-7, she’s not the most imposing athlete on a women’s circuit increasingly inhabited by taller players with explosive power and movement. But she has exquisite timing, excellent fundamentals, a keen understanding of tactics and an even temper.

“It was driving me crazy,” Joyce said. “She could go through a whole tournament without a single pump.”

Equanimity can be useful in a brutally competitive sport where success is precarious. One of Pegula’s closest friends, Jennifer Brady, was an Australian Open runner-up last year but has now missed the last two majors with a chronic foot condition.

All of this may seem fragile, especially given the coronavirus pandemic. Pegula married her longtime boyfriend, Taylor Gahagen, in October at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina, but her coach, David Witt, tested positive for coronavirus and she, as a close contact, withdrew from the team event of the Billie Jean King Cup.

The next day, she tested positive. Her husband too. “We basically had a Covid honeymoon,” Pegula said. “We were in our house for two weeks.”

Although Pegula said it took her “a few weeks” to recover, she enjoyed the long off-season and the chance to spend time with her three dogs in Boca Raton: Maddie, a miniature Australian Shepherd; Dexter, a German Shepherd; and Tucker, a chocolate Labrador.

“A lot of different personalities,” Pegula said. “Like three children, I guess. But you have to adapt. »

Consider its slogan. Previously, she had a dog named for Pittsburgh Penguins hockey star Sidney Crosby. The connection to Pittsburgh was real: her father is from Pennsylvania and graduated from Penn State. Although Jessica was born in Buffalo, the Pegulas lived in Pittsburgh when she was young.

“To be honest, we really weren’t Bills fans, but obviously it’s reversed,” she said, preparing to carefully check the jet lag from Australia and watch the big game from Sunday.



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Newsrust - US Top News: Jessica Pegula applauds the Buffalo Bills at the Australian Open
Jessica Pegula applauds the Buffalo Bills at the Australian Open
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