Billionaire heiress Jessica Pegula sets her sight on a US Open title

Jessica Pegula is the daughter of the Bills owners worth $6.7bn and America’s highest-ranked tennis star, but continues to fly under the radar… after overcoming major injuries she’s eyeing her first Grand Slam semifinal

  • It’s the fourth time in Pegula’s career that she’s reached a Grand Slam quarters
  • The daughter of Bills & Sabres owner is making her own way in tennis
  • A history of injuries and personal setbacks have hindered her career until now
  • She faces Iga Swiatek, who defeated her in the QF of this year’s French Open 

There’s a tale of woe woven into the sports history of Buffalo, New York.

The NFL’s Bills went to four straight Super Bowls from 1990 to 1993, falling each time; the NHL’s Sabres have been to the Stanley Cup Finals twice, losing both; and Buffalo’s NBA team, the Braves, bolted for the West Coast in 1978 before settling as the Los Angeles Clippers. The city even built a stadium in preparation for MLB expansion, only to get passed over for other locations. 

Outside three titles in indoor lacrosse, Buffalo has never known success in major sports competition.

They could claim their first title this weekend just under 300 miles away, if native daughter Jessica Pegula claims her first singles Grand Slam crown.

Before that, Pegula prepares to take on top-ranked Iga Swiatek on Arthur Ashe Wednesday night in the quarterfinals.

Pegula entered this tournament as the highest-ranked American tennis player in the world and remains the only American woman at the US Open after doubles partner Coco Gauff was bounced Tuesday night.

It’s the fourth time in her career Pegula reached the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam – with three of those appearances coming this year.

It’s been a banner year for Pegula in other ways – with greater exposure thanks to her play leading new sponsors.

Buffalo native Jessica Pegula is in the quarterfinals of the US Open for the first time ever

Jessica Pegula (pictured far left) after her father Terry (center left) purchased the Bills in 2014

Pegula was born in Buffalo, New York to Terry and Kim Pegula. Terry became a billionaire through fracking, natural gas development, and real estate development.

Terry bought Buffalo’s pro sports teams – the NHL’s Sabres and the NFL’s Bills in 2011 and 2014, respectively.

The latter purchase kept the club in Buffalo amid rumors of a defection, while preventing a purchase from other bidders such as Donald Trump and an investment group that included Jon Bon Jovi and key members of Toronto’s Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment.

With her father sitting at no. 438 on the Forbes billionaires list, it’s often been speculated that Pegula is the richest tennis player in the world. She’s been branded an heiress in the media and alongside her four other siblings, Jessica is the most visible. 

That visibility has led her to picking up new sponsors. She recently became the first female athlete to sign a contract with Ready, a sports nutrition brand represented by male athletes like the NBA’s Giannis Antetokounmpo and NFL’s Aaron Donald. She also has her own skin-care company called Ready 24, named prior to the new deal. 

Pegula has been called the richest player in tennis and has been likened to an heiress

Pegula recently became the first female athlete to sign a contract with Ready, a sports nutrition brand represented by male athletes like the NBA’s Giannis Antetokounmpo and NFL’s Aaron Donald. She also has her own skin-care company called Ready 24, named prior to the new deal. She’s pictured, right, after surgery to repair a broken hip in 2017

However, her day-to-day life is less flash and glamour and more based in routine and subtlety.

A profile ahead of the US Open by the Buffalo News caught her at a Manhattan food hall describing her as someone who, ‘could be more easily taken a tourist than as what she actually is: an athlete climbing to the apex of her sport.

‘Aside from a wedding ring, Pegula has no fancy jewelry – no visual indicators that her parents are the billionaire owners of two professional sports teams. Nothing except a pair of beaded bracelets.’

Those bracelets, made by friend and Australian tennis player Daria Saville – who knocked Pegula and Gauff out of doubles last week –  are in Sabres and Bills colors.

The latter team is doing much better than the former, and Pegula isn’t shy about hiding her pride in the Bills. She shouted out the team at a previous match and was met with a few cheers in Flushing Meadows – territory of the divisional-rival Jets.

Beyond tennis and her family’s teams, Pegula seems to have a deep fondness for sport. Prior to her first match, she attended a Subway Series game between the Yankees and Mets. 

Pegula faces world no. 1 Iga Swiatek, who she lost to in the quarterfinals at the French Open

That love of sports has bestowed a competitive spirit on Jessie, as her family calls her.

After picking up the racket at age 7,  she showed enough promise that her family moved south and got her a high-level coach.

She went pro in 2009, the year she turned 15, and made the qualifiers for her first major at 17 for the US Open in 2011.

However, in the subsequent years, she suffered a series of injures that set her back. With a knee surgery in 2014, a leg injury in 2016, and hip surgery in 2017, Pegula questioned her longevity in the sport. 

Reflecting back on that time, Pegula’s parents questioned her if she wanted to keep at it. Her mother Kim remembered asking, ‘Why would she want to keep doing this?’

‘There are other women whose families are relying on them through tennis, but she doesn’t have that worry. She doesn’t have to do this and her life would be so much easier if she didn’t. But it’s because she loves this sport and she’s truly doing it for herself.’

After multiple surgeries, Pegula has had the season of her career in 2022, reaching the quarterfinals of three Grand Slam events

Jessie looks back at those comments as a challenge to her commitment to the sport.

‘I was committed,’ Jessica said, but added, ‘at the same time, maybe I wasn’t as professional as I could be. I don’t think it was intentional… I always worked really hard. I always put a lot of effort into it and wanted it. But I think it was all the little small things that add up at the end of the day.’

Her re-dedication to professionalism saw her hire a new coach in 2019 and she’s never looked back. She finished 2019 ranked 76th in the world. By the end of 2020, she was 62nd. At 2021’s close, she was 18th.

That ranking was thanks to a 2021 Australian Open run to the quarterfinals – her first such stretch. There, she was bounced by fellow American and eventual runner-up Jennifer Brady.

If that was a sign of things to come, then 2022 was the full realization of that sign. She made the Aussie Open quarterfinals again, losing to eventual winner Ash Barty. 

At the following major, she made the quarters again – her first French Open past the third round. There, she met the same opponent she faces tonight, Iga Swiatek. Pegula lost in straight sets 3-6, 2-6 as the Pole ended up winning the title.

But that French Open wasn’t all quarterfinal misery. With doubles partner Coco Gauff, they ran all the way to the finals before falling to the French duo of Caroline Garcia and Kristina Mladenovic.

Pegula failed to go 3-for-3 in 2022 after getting knocked out in Wimbledon’s third round, but she got back to her quarterfinal ways this week.

The world No. 2 doubles pair of Gauff (L) and Jessica Pegula (R) made the French Open finals

Pegula and Gauff fell in doubles at the US Open and were irate with certain umpire calls

Along the way, she showed her competitive side, blowing up at a chair umpire during what became a decisive doubles tiebreak.  

However, she kept things together in the singles tournament – winning three of her four matches in straight sets. That includes a fourth round win over two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova.  

Pegula will need to harness her fire and keep her head to move on to the first semifinals of her career. If not, Swiatek may as well crown herself the champion given the history of Pegula’s victorious quarters opponents. 

But the time is right for Pegula to take her first title. While she faces the possibility of playing higher ranked opponents for the rest of the tournament, there may be no better chance for her to win a Grand Slam.

‘She’s improved so much, she had her best season this year,’ American tennis icon Chris Evert said on her game. 

Money can’t buy everything, but it’s clear Pegula didn’t buy her way into this tournament. Her individual prowess, drive and talent has positioned her at this moment. 

The Pegula family could bring glory to Buffalo via the Bills or the Sabres – but Jessie has the opportunity to beat them to the punch. Throughout her journey, she’s made choices to bring her here – 300 miles from home and on the cusp of greatness. Now’s the time to claim it all for herself, bringing glory to Buffalo along the way.

Pegula made the quarterfinals, winning in straight sets barring this match against Yuan Yue

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