Jessica Pegula: the daughter of an American billionaire who could be America’s next grand slam champion



CNN

For many, the New Year presents an opportunity to strive to get better – at work, in relationships, or to make someone’s wildest dreams come true.

American top tennis player Jessica Pegula seems to have received the memo.

The 28-year-old will be off to a flying start in 2023, taking her first career win over Iga Światek. She beat the world number 1 6-2 6-2 in the opening game of the United Cup semi-final in Sydney earlier this month. .

And with the Australian Open in full swing, even more success could lie ahead for the American, who has reached the quarterfinals of the tournament for the past two years. On Friday, Pegula comfortably won her third round match against Ukraine’s Marta Kostyuk 6-0 6-2.

Eurosport pundit Barbara Schett told CNN Sport: “Jess definitely has a shot at winning her first grand slam title.

“I saw her play against Iga Światek and she really surprised me. She literally knocked Iga off the field. If she can repeat this level, she can win the Australian Open.”

Pegula is ranked third in the world and comes from another sports dynasty. Her father, billionaire Terry Pegula, and mother, Kim, head a sports empire and co-own the NFL’s Buffalo Bills and National Hockey League’s Buffalo Sabres.

Her father, who is worth about $6.7 billion, according to Forbes estimates, made his fortune in oil and gas through the East Resources company. After the asset sale, her parents bought the Sabers for $189 million in 2010 and the Bills for $1.4 billion in 2014.

Iga Światek shakes hands with Pegula after the women's singles quarterfinals at Roland Garros 2022 in Paris.

“She really is a workhorse that I think defies a lot of stereotypes and expectations you might have with someone from her background,” Ben Rothenberg, editor-in-chief at Raquet Magazine, told CNN Sports.

Tennis star Pegula is a huge fan of Bills, often juggling tennis commitments to make time to watch games.

Outside of tennis, she owns her own skincare brand Ready24. She also has a soft spot for furry friends and co-founded “A Lending Paw” with husband Taylor Gahagen, a charity that connects people with rescued and trained service animals.

Pegula started playing tennis at the age of seven because her older sister Laura played the sport.

“She played junior and college tennis, so I was always on the courts watching her games and watching her workouts. I remember thinking to myself, ‘Oh my God, I’ll never be able to hit as hard or be as good as them,'” Pegula said, according to Forbes.

“But I stuck with it and I started taking classes after school three, four days a week, and did some tennis camps. That’s actually how I started.”

Pegula has a reputation

Her journey has not always been smooth sailing and injuries have stalled her career. A knee injury in 2014 took her a year and a half off the tour, while hip surgery in 2017 was the “hardest thing to come back from,” she told reporters.

“I didn’t even know if I wanted to come back. This was just going to be so hard,” she admitted. But then, “I think I just got over it. I was like, ‘Whatever, I’m just going to fight through it again.’”

After her injuries and because of her unique family background, it would have been easy to assume she would “retire from court,” according to Rothenberg.

“Unlike many players, she didn’t play to support her parents and family,” he explained. “But she has really shown incredible commitment, dedication and passion for tennis, going through all the different injuries she’s endured, committing herself and really playing fully so far.”

In addition to being number three in singles, she is one of the busiest players on the tour and “often plays very professional doubles,” he added.

Pegula’s breakthrough finally came in 2021, where – after starting the year ranked No. 62 – she finished the season in the top 20 after five quarter-finals, a pair of semi-finals and seven top-10 finishes.

“She’s just a down to earth, real person and she works really hard,” her coach, David Witt, said in 2021, according to the USTA. “She’s just really easy to get along with. We have fun while we work hard. And we just clicked,” he added.

Australia's Ashleigh Barty defeated Pegula in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open last year.

Rothenberg agrees. “There have been a few years in a row now, people really thought she maxed out a little bit above what people probably thought her ceiling was. She continues to defy the limits set for her, the limits set by forecasters in the sport.

“You bet against her at your peril, even if she starts from increasingly stronger positions. And she started very, very strong,” he said.

This, he said, shows in the reliability of her game.

“Pegula was really incredibly consistent in beating the players she’s supposed to beat in the big events, and she lived up to her placements, she doesn’t get upset – that’s a really rare and really impressive thing to do,” he explained .

In three of the four grand slams last year, Pegula lost in the quarterfinals to the eventual champion, defeated by the now-retired Ash Barty at the Australian Open and Światek at the French Open and the US Open. Reaching this stage of the tournament, she joked, has become her “MO”.

Last year at the Guadalajara Open, Pegula scored her biggest win and trophy.

“My goal all year was to start winning more tournaments, keep going throughout the year and finally be more rewarding at the end of the year,” Pegula said in a 2022 recap. This came in Guadalajara, where she biggest win. and trophy.

Now comes the Australian Open.

Eurosport pundit Laura Robson, a former British No. 1 and an Olympic silver medalist, told CNN Sports that Pegula is “definitely” one of the main contenders for the women’s title.

“She’s always been an incredible ball striker, but she’s really improved her consistency and movement over the past year,” said Robson.

“She hits the ball better than ever and the win against Swiatek at the United Cup will give her immense confidence to believe she can finally have that big break in the slams.”

“If the conditions in Melbourne are similar to those in Sydney, I think that really suits her game. Playing very low and flat and fast is just how she likes it, and what suits her ball attack,” said Rothenberg, but added that her success could depend on who she gets in the draw.

“There are certainly a lot of strong players. But her fortitude is really her best weapon in many ways,” he added.

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