A tale of woe is woven into the sporting history of Buffalo, New York.
The NFL bills went to four consecutive Super Bowls from 1990 to 1993, falling each time; the NHL’s Sabers have twice been to the Stanley Cup Finals, losing both; and buffalos NBA Team, the Braves, raced to the West Coast in 1978 before settling as The Braves los Angeles clippers. The city even built a stadium in preparation for MLB expansion, only to be left out for other locations.
Aside from three indoor lacrosse titles, Buffalo has never known success in major sports competitions.
They could claim their first title just under 300 miles away this weekend when local daughter Jessica Pegula wins her first Grand Slam crown in singles.
Before that, Pegula is preparing to face leaders Iga Swiatek against Arthur Ashe in Wednesday night’s quarterfinals.
Pegula entered that tournament as the top-ranked American tennis player in the world and remains the only American at the US Open after her doubles partner Coco Gauff rebounded on Tuesday night.
It is the fourth time in her career that Pegula has reached the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam – three of those appearances coming this year.
It’s been a stellar year for Pegula in other ways too – with greater exposure thanks to their game spearheading 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) bought 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 professional sports teams — the NHL’s Sabers and the NFL’s Bills in 2011 and 2014, respectively.
The latter purchase kept the club in Buffalo amid rumors of a churn 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. Ranked 438th on the Forbes billionaires list, Pegula is often speculated to be the richest tennis player in the world. She has been branded an heiress in the media and alongside her four other siblings, Jessica is the most visible.
This visibility has led them to attract new sponsors. She recently became the first female athlete to sign a contract with Ready, a sports nutrition brand represented by male athletes such as the NBA’s Giannis Antetokounmpo and the NFL’s Aaron Donald. She also has her own skincare company called Ready 24, which was named before the new deal.
Pegula has been dubbed the richest tennis player and compared to an heiress
Pegula recently became the first female athlete to sign a contract with Ready, a sports nutrition brand represented by male athletes such as the NBA’s Giannis Antetokounmpo and the NFL’s Aaron Donald. She also has her own skincare company called Ready 24, which was named before the new deal. She is pictured on the right following surgery to repair a fractured hip in 2017
However, her everyday life is less flashy and glamorous and relies more on routine and subtlety.
A pre-US Open profile of the Buffalo News caught her in a Manhattan grocery store, describing her as someone who “could be more easily seen as a tourist than what she actually is: an athlete rising to the pinnacle of her sport.”
“Apart from a wedding ring, Pegula has no fancy jewelry – no visible signs that her parents are billionaire owners of two professional sports teams. Nothing but a pair of pearl bracelets.”
Made by friend and Australian tennis player Daria Saville, who knocked Pegula and Gauff out of doubles last week, these bracelets feature the colors of Sabers and Bills.
The latter team fares much better than the former, and Pegula isn’t afraid to hide her pride in the Bills. She called the team at a previous game and was greeted with a few cheers in Flushing Meadows, the territory of division rivals Jets.
Away from tennis and her family’s teams, Pegula seems to have a deep love for sports. Before her first match, she attended a Subway Series game between the Yankees and the Mets.
Pegula is ahead of world No. 1. 1 Iga Swiatek, against whom she lost in the quarterfinals at the French Open
This love of sport has given Jessie, as her family calls her, a competitive spirit.
After starting the racquet at the age of 7, she showed enough promise that her family moved south and got her a senior coach.
She turned professional in 2009, the year she turned 15, and qualified for her first major at 17, for the 2011 US Open.
In the years that followed, however, she suffered a series of injuries that set her back. With knee surgery in 2014, a leg injury in 2016, and hip surgery in 2017, Pegula questioned her longevity in the sport.
Thinking back to that time, Pegula’s parents asked her if she wanted to continue. Her mother, Kim, recalled asking, “Why would she want to continue doing this?”
“There are other women whose families rely on her through tennis, but she doesn’t have that concern. 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 is really doing it for herself.
After multiple surgeries, Pegula had the season of her career in 2022, reaching the quarterfinals of three Grand Slam events
Jessie sees these 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’ve always worked very hard. I’ve always tried hard and wanted it. But I think it was all the little things that add up at the end of the day.
Her renewed dedication to professionalism saw her hire a new coach in 2019 and she has never looked back. She ended 2019 at number 76 in the world rankings. She was 62 at the end of 2020. She was 18 at the end of 2021.
That placement was thanks to a run to the quarterfinals of the 2021 Australian Open – their first such distance. There she was picked up by her American compatriot and eventual runner-up Jennifer Brady.
If this was a sign of things to come, then 2022 was the full realization of that sign. She again reached the quarterfinals of the Aussie Open, losing to eventual winner Ash Barty.
At the following major, she again made it to the quarterfinals – her first French Open after the third round. There she faced the same opponent as tonight, Iga Swiatek. Pegula lost in straight sets 3-6, 2-6 as the Pole ended up winning the title.
But this French Open wasn’t all quarterfinal misery. They made it to the final with doubles partner Coco Gauff before losing to the French duo Caroline Garcia and Kristina Mladenovic.
Pegula failed to win 3v3 in 2022 after being eliminated in Wimbledon’s third round, but she returned to her quarterfinals this week.
World No. 2 doubles pair Gauff (L) and Jessica Pegula (R) reached the final of the French Open
Pegula and Gauff fell in doubles at the US Open and were furious over certain referee calls
Along the way, she showed her competitive side by blowing up a chair umpire in a crucial double tie-break.
However, she held 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 cool to reach the first semifinal of her career. If not, Swiatek might as well be crowned champion given the history of Pegula’s victorious quarter-final opponents.
But the time has come for Pegula to claim her first title. While she may have to face higher-ranked opponents for the remainder of the tournament, there may not be a better chance for her to win a Grand Slam.
“She’s improved so much, she’s had her best season this year,” American tennis icon Chris Evert said of her game.
Money can’t buy everything, but it’s clear that Pegula didn’t buy into this tournament. Your individual skills, your drive and your talent have positioned you in this moment.
The Pegula family could bring glory to Buffalo over the Bills or the Sabers – but Jessie has an opportunity to beat them. Throughout her journey, she’s made choices to bring her here — 300 miles from home and on the verge of greatness. Now is the time to claim it all and bring glory to Buffalo in the process.
Pegula reached the quarterfinals and won in straight sets apart from this match against Yuan Yue