Jessica Pegula is stepping up to the US Open after her mother’s health scare this summer

Jessica Pegula returns a shot during her third round win over Yuan Yue at the US Open on Saturday. (Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Associated Press)

Not only is Jessica Pegula the top-ranked American tennis player — and she’s now in the round of 16 at the US 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 soared to new heights in her tennis career, defeating Chinese qualifier Yuan Yue 6-2, 6-7 (6), 6-0 on Saturday in Arthur Ashe Stadium.

This sets up a round of 16 match against Petra Kvitova, who defeated Pegula in the third round of the 2020 US Open.

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

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 is an avid fan of both franchises.

It’s been a trying few months for the Pegula family, who announced in mid-June that Kim was undergoing medical treatment for an unspecified health problem.

“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 outstanding team of medical experts by her side. Please keep Kim and our family in your prayers and respect our need for privacy.

Two weeks later, the family issued another statement saying Kim was “progressing well” and “resting and recovering” from the health problem.

Buffalo Bills co-owner Kim Pegula talks to a colleague before a game.

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

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

In May, three weeks before her health problem was announced, Kim Pegula spoke to The Times about what it was like to raise a world-class tennis player.

“We call her our first sports team,” Pegula’s mother said at the NFL meetings May 24 in Atlanta. “Because not knowing the future of owning the Sabers and the Bills and all these other teams, this was really our first opportunity to really understand as a parent what it means to want to be a professional player. The time, the effort, the things he gave up as a child. Oh my gosh.

“She is 28 now; she started at 7. I haven’t done anything purposeful for so long, so many years. Now to see it actually translate into achieving all this success has been very satisfying.

“As many parents as they were, they supported us. We took her there, bought the racket, took the lessons and things like that. But if it wasn’t for her. … It’s a sport. It’s up to her. For her to have spent so much time… and now we’re seeing it play out.

Those league meetings took place during the French Open, when Pegula, nicknamed Jessie, reached the quarterfinals. Her parents followed her matches by sneaking glances at their phones during matches.

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

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

Jessica Pegula returns a shot to Yuan Yue during their third round match on Saturday.

Jessica Pegula returns a shot to Yuan Yue during their third round match on Saturday. (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 really didn’t know. So many things can happen between 7 and 8 pm.

“I think there’s been certain games throughout her career where you can see it’s there. Now we’re 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 that she could play any of these women that were ranked up there in the top — first it was 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 is Taylor Fritz at No. 12.

“When she was younger and we moved to Hilton Head (South Carolina) and she wanted to play tennis, you know, you brag about your kid,” Kim Pegula said in May. “People would ask and we’d 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 bit of good satisfaction for those who knew us way back, knew her when she was younger. She just had this dream. It’s fun to see it come to life.”

This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

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