It was already Tuesday in Sydney, Australia, but Jessica Pegula was watching “Monday Night Football” on her phone on January 3 while waiting to take to the field in the United Cup. Suddenly, I felt the same fear that many football fans feel that day, but perhaps it had an even greater resonance.
On her mini monitor, she watched Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin collapse on the lawn and watched the frantic moments as paramedics tried to resuscitate him and put him in an ambulance after his heart stopped beating.
She knew how important every one of those seconds was to Hamlin, who eventually made a remarkable recovery. Her mother, Kim Pegula, president and co-owner of the bill alongside her husband, Terry Pegula, went into cardiac arrest in her sleep just over a year ago. Kim Pegula’s recovery has been a slow and difficult process, made even more difficult by the loss of oxygen when it happened.
Jessica Pegula was so shaken that she considered not playing in the United Cup, but eventually did. Days later, at the Australian Open, she wore a No. 3 patch on her clothing to honor Hamlin. Coincidentally, her ranking was #3 at the time, which is an amazing feat considering everything she’s been through in the past six months.
The family sat vigil in Kim Pegula’s hospital bed for several days last June. Jessica left to play at Wimbledon with a mixture of feelings but also knowing that this is what her mother wanted. Lost in the third round due to anxiety, fatigue from the previous weeks and saddled with sinusitis.
But somehow, as her mother steadily progressed, Pegula went on to play the best tennis of her career at the age of 28 (she turned 29 in February). She reached the semi-finals of the Canadian Open and, for the first time, reached the quarter-finals of the US Open – her third major tournament of the year. She won the Guadalajara event last October, and in January, she reached another quarter-final at the Australian Open. Ranked fourth in the world, she is the highest-ranking American woman.
On Sunday, she qualified in her final quarterfinal appearance when she defeated Lesya Tsurenko, 6-1, 6-3, in the fourth round. She’s now reached the quarter-finals at each of the four Grand Slams and, as the No. 4 seed, has a fantastic chance of entering her first Grand Slam semi-final if she can beat Marka Vondrousova, the world No. 42 player, on Tuesday.
However, it has been difficult to travel the past 12 months and be away from her mother, who urges Pegula to fight as she did.
“She doesn’t want me to do anything else,” Pegula said Sunday after her win over Tsurenko. “I think she wants me to keep winning, to keep competing and to put myself ahead.”
Pegula explained how her mother, who along with Terry Pegula also owns the Buffalo Sabers in the NHL, helped shape her tennis career without being overbearing. She said her mother mostly left tennis to others but helped brainstorm ideas to help her improve and navigate the complex and unforgiving world of professional tennis. She always drew inspiration from her mother’s example of hard work and independent strength. Now, she says, her mother is inspired by watching her in court.
in Article in the Players’ Tribune In February, Pegula revealed for the first time the events surrounding her mother’s illness and recovery, and explained how she was playing for her. On Sunday, after her latest win, she spoke of the strength and motivation they were getting from each other.
“She wants to watch me on TV,” Jessica Pegula said on Sunday. “I think it inspires her in her recovery as well, to see me still playing.”
And he plays well. Now healthy after injuries hampering her progression up the ranks, Pegula has benefited from a healthy symmetry, placing her currently ranked No. 4 behind the newly crowned Big Three of No. 1 Iga Swiatek, No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka and No. 3 Elena Rybakina.
Pegula expresses no outward resentment that she is not included in their ranks, but makes it clear that she strives to change the perception that the top of the Ladies Tour is a triad.
“I would definitely love to crash the Big Three gig, if I could,” she said. “That would definitely be a goal. I mean, these girls are playing really well.”
All of these women are at least four years younger than Pegula. She was asked if the experience had led to her recent success, but she insisted that health was more important. Her career was interrupted by a knee injury and hip surgery, and rehab in the gym is an experience different from matches on the field.
She also said that her persistence was no accident. When she reached her major quarter-final, at the 2021 Australian Open, she was determined not to let all be lost in the subsequent tournament in Doha, Qatar. She was ranked No. 44 at the time and had to win three qualifying rounds to enter the event, and ended up snapping a six-match losing streak before falling in the final to No. 4 Petra Kvitová.
She said, “I don’t want to be that person who makes a quarter of a tournament and then loses the first round,” and added, “I gained a lot of confidence from that.”
She has now reached the quarterfinals in five of the last seven Grand Slam tournaments, and is only the fifth American to reach the quarterfinals in all four Grand Slams in the last 25 years, joining Venus Williams, Serena Williams, Sloane Stephens and Madison Keys, who advanced quarter-final on Monday by defeating 16-year-old Russian phenomenon Mira Andreeva in three sets.
For Pegula, when her tournament is over, it will be an opportunity to return to the United States and, if time permits, to see her mother. But soon, as the hard court season begins, you’ll be back on the court with Kim Pegula watching. Jessica Pegula said her mom doesn’t like to be spoiled or upset.
“It’s like, ‘Go do whatever you want,'” she said.