For many, the New Year offers a chance to strive to be better – at work, in relationships, or to achieve their wildest dreams.
America’s top tennis player Jessica Pegula seems to have gotten the memo.
The 28-year-old is off to a strong start to 2023, picking up her first career victory over Iga Światek, beating the world No. 1 6-2 6-2 in the opener of the United Cup semi-final in Sydney earlier this month. .
And with the Australian Open in full swing, there could be even more success on the way for the American, who has reached the quarter-finals 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 court. If she can repeat that level, she can win the Australian Open.
Ranked third in the world, Pegula comes from a completely different kind of sporting dynasty. His father, billionaire Terry Pegula, and his mother, Kim, are at the head of a sports empire, co-owners of the Buffalo Bills of the NFL and the Buffalo Sabers of the National Hockey League.
His father, worth around $6.7 billion, according to Forbes estimates, made his fortune in oil and gas through the company East Resources. After selling the company’s assets, his parents bought the Sabers for $189 million in 2010 and the Bills for $1.4 billion in 2014.
“She really is a workhorse that I think defies a lot of the stereotypes and expectations that you might have of someone from her background,” Raquet Magazine editor Ben Rothenberg told CNN Sports.
Tennis star Pegula is a huge Bills fan, often juggling his tennis commitments to make time to watch games.
Outside of tennis, she owns her own skincare brand, Ready24. She also has a thing for furry friends and founded “A Lending Paw”, a charity that connects people with rescued and trained service animals, with her husband Taylor Gahagen.
Pegula made her tennis debut at the age of seven, playing because her older sister Laura was involved in the sport.
“She played tennis in juniors and in college, so I was always around the tennis courts, watching her matches, watching her practice. I remember thinking to myself, ‘Oh, my God, I could never hit as hard or be as good as them,” Pegula said, according to Forbes.
“But I stuck with that and started taking lessons after school three or four days a week, doing some of the tennis camps. That’s really how I started.
His journey has not always been easy and injuries have hampered his career. A knee injury in 2014 kept her away from touring for a year and a half, while hip surgery in 2017 was “the hardest thing to recover from”, she told reporters.
“I didn’t even know if I wanted to come back. It was going to be so difficult,” she admitted. But then, “I think I just got over it. I was like, ‘Never mind, I’m just going to fight again.’ ”
Following her injuries and due to her unique family background, it would have been easy to assume that she would “walk away from court,” according to Rothenberg.
“Unlike a lot of players, she wasn’t playing to support her parents and family,” he explained. “But she’s really shown incredible commitment, dedication and passion for tennis, going through all the injuries she’s had, dedicating herself and playing really hard so far.”
As well as being number three in singles, she is one of the busiest players on tour and “often plays very professional doubles,” he added.
Pegula’s breakthrough finally came in 2021, where – after starting the year ranked 62nd – she finished the season in the top 20 after five quarter-finals, a pair of semi-finals and seven top 10s.
“She’s just a real down-to-earth person and works really hard,” her coach, David Witt, said in 2021, according to the USTA. “She’s just very easy going. We have fun while we work hard. And we just clicked,” he added.
Rothenberg agrees. “There were a few years in a row, people really thought she was kind of maximizing above what people probably thought her ceiling was. She continues to defy the bars that were set for her, the limits which have been set by sports tipsters.
“You bet against her at your own risk, even if she starts from stronger and stronger places. And she started off very, very strong,” he said.
This, he said, translates into the reliability of his game.
“Pegula has really been incredibly consistent in beating the players she’s supposed to beat at big events, and she’s lived up to her seedings, she doesn’t get upset – that’s really rare and really impressive to do,” he explained.
In three of the four Grand Slams last year, Pegula lost in the quarter-finals to eventual champion, beaten by now-retired Ash Barty at the Australian Open and Światek at the French Open. and at the US Open. Arrived at this stage of the tournament, she joked, became his “MO”
“My goal all year was to start winning more tournaments, to continue to persevere throughout the year and eventually at the end of the year it was more rewarding,” Pegula said in a recap. of 2022. It happened in Guadalajara, where she had her biggest victory. and trophy.
Now comes the Australian Open.
Eurosport pundit Laura Robson, a former British No. 1 and Olympic silver medalist, tells CNN Sports that Pegula is “definitely” one of the top contenders for the women’s title.
“She’s always been an incredible striker, but she’s improved her consistency and movement so much over the last year,” Robson said.
“She’s hitting the ball better than ever and winning against Swiatek in the United Cup will give her enormous confidence to believe that she can finally make that big Grand Slam breakthrough.”
“If the conditions in Melbourne are similar to those in Sydney, I think it really suits her game. Playing very low, flat and fast is exactly what she likes and suits her ball striking” , said Rothenberg, but added that her success could depend on who she gets in the draw.
“There are a lot of strong players, that’s for sure. But his stability is really his best weapon in many ways,” he added.