Jessica Pegula, daughter of Bills owners, surging at U.S. Open after tough year

Jessica Pegula returns a shot to Yuan Yue.
Jessica Pegula returns a shot during her third-round victory over Yuan Yue at the U.S. Open on Saturday.
(Eduardo Munoz Alvarez / Associated Press)

Not only is Jessica Pegula the top-ranked American tennis player — and now in the Round of 16 at the U.S. Open for the first time — but her parents own the Buffalo Bills.

As the Bills prepare to open the NFL season against the Rams on Thursday night, Pegula has climbed to new heights in her tennis career, defeating Chinese qualifier Yuan Yue 6-2, 6-7 (6), 6-0 on Saturday at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

That sets up a Round of 16 match against Petra Kvitova, who beat Pegula in the third round of the 2020 U.S. Open.


“I think I’m a much better player now than I was when I played her last time,” said Pegula, 28. “Again, I don’t really know — I mean, I know how she plays but you never really know how she’s going to come together.”

In what likely was the final competitive match of her storied tennis career, Serena Williams lost to Ajla Tomljanovic in the third round of the U.S. Open.

Sept. 2, 2022

Pegula’s parents, Terry and Kim, own the Bills and Buffalo Sabres. Jessica wears a pair of beaded bracelets, one blue and red for the Bills, the other blue and yellow for the Sabres. Not surprisingly, she’s an enthusiastic fan of both franchises.

It has been a trying few months for the Pegula family, which announced in mid-June that Kim was undergoing medical treatment for an unspecified health issue.

“We are very grateful for the progress she has made over the past few days,” the family said in a June 14 statement. “She has an exceptional team of medical experts at her side. We ask that you keep Kim and our family in your prayers and ask that you respect our need for privacy.”

Two weeks later, the family issued another statement that Kim was “progressing well” and “resting and rehabilitating” from the health issue.

Buffalo Bills co-owner Kim Pegula speaks to a colleague before a game.
Buffalo Bills co-owner Kim Pegula speaks to a colleague before a game between the Bills and New York Jets in September 2019.
(Bill Kostroun / Associated Press)

Jessica Pegula has indicated in subsequent interviews that her mother is on the mend.

In May, three weeks before the announcement of her health issue, Kim Pegula spoke to The Times about what it was like raising a world-class tennis player.

“We call her our first sports team,” Pegula‘s mother said at the NFL meetings on May 24 in Atlanta. “Because without us knowing the future of owning the Sabres and the Bills and all these other teams, it was really our first opportunity to really understand as a parent what goes into wanting to be a professional player. The time, the effort, the things she gave up as a kid. Oh, my goodness.

“She’s 28 now; she started at 7. I haven’t done anything single-mindedly for that long, over that many years. Now to see it actually transpire into having all this success, it’s been very satisfying.

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Sept. 1, 2022

“As much as parents are, we were supportive. We drove her there, bought the racket, got the lessons and stuff like that. But if it wasn’t for her. … It’s a single sport. It’s on her. For her to have spent so much time … and we’re seeing that play out now.”

Those league meetings took place during the French Open, when Pegula — who goes by Jessie — advanced to the quarterfinals. Her parents followed her matches by stealing glances at their phones during meetings.

“We’re following the score and the little ball when she’s serving and all that,” Kim Pegula, 53, said at the time. “I’m a little more nervous than my husband is, so he’s staring at the phone. I’m like, `Just tell me after the set is done.’ He’s more point by point. I’m more like, OK, end of the first set, end of the match.”

As for the moment the Pegulas realized their daughter had extraordinary talent?

Jessica Pegula returns a shot to Yuan Yue during Saturday's third-round match.
(Eduardo Munoz Alvarez / Associated Press)

“My husband and I disagree,” she said at the time. “He says he knew from Day 1 and I’m like, ‘Oh, come on. You didn’t really know.’ So much stuff can happen between 7 and 20.

“I think there’s been certain matches throughout her career where you can see that it’s there. Now it’s just trying to get that consistency on a consistent basis to really get through. We saw it periodically in different matches that she would have, just saying she can play with any of these women that are ranked up there in the top — first it was the top 50, then top 20, then top 10.

Pegula is ranked No. 8 among women, the highest of any American player. The highest-ranked American man is Taylor Fritz at No. 12.

“When she was younger and we moved to Hilton Head (S.C.) and she wanted to play tennis, you know, you brag about your kid,” Kim Pegula said in May. “People would ask and we would say, ‘Oh, yeah, she wants to be a professional.’ Everyone thinks you’re just bragging about your kid.

“So now they’re like, ‘Wait … I just saw her on TV. She is really good.’ So it’s a little good satisfaction for those who knew us way back when, knew her when she was younger. She just had this dream. It’s fun to see it come to life.”