Jessica Pegula is the No.3-ranked Hologic WTA Tour player, but that’s not why she’s wearing the No.3 as she races through the Australian Open field.
That’s the number of Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin, who suffered cardiac arrest in a Jan. 2 game against the Cincinnati Bengals. Pegula’s parents, Terry and Kim, own the Bills and she has been closely following his remarkable recovery.
And now, something that looked tragic has morphed into triumph.
“He’s recovered so quickly and so fast that it’s just taken a lot of weight off of the teams, the players, the sport, other players,” Pegula said Friday after defeating Marta Kostyuk 6-0, 6-2. “It’s just been a really amazing story.
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“Any time I can kind of ride that amazing kind of story and feeling, I think it’s good to try to take that with you into your matches.”
Pegula was representing the United States at the United Cup in Sydney when Hamlin’s heart stopped. He was revived on the field and taken to a local Cincinnati hospital. Three days later, Pegula scored one of the sweetest victories over her career, in straight sets, over World No.1 Iga Swiatek. Ultimately, the Americans won the team title with Pegula playing an important role.
Jessica Pegula's touching tribute to Damar Hamlin ❤️3️— Wide World of Sports (@wwos) January 18, 2023
🖥 #AusOpen LIVE | https://t.co/80XjQpwd6J#9WWOS #Tennis pic.twitter.com/4OCBbB1aC0
In Melbourne, she’s been phenomenal, winning all six sets she’s played -- and dropping only 11 games (including two at 6-0). Pegula has won seven of eight matches this year and Sunday will face Barbora Krejcikova in a fourth-round match.
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“Definitely some part of it has inspired me a lot,” Pegula said. “It’s cool. He’s wrote me a few times as well after I’ve won here. It’s just amazing. I think it just shows you that people’s lives are at stake.”
The Bills play the Bengals again Sunday, and Hamlin -- who still requires oxygen and has his heart closely monitored -- has visited the team’s facility several times this week. The entire episode has given Pegula a new perspective.
“It’s so much bigger than sport,” she said. “Sometimes we lose sight of that. Sometimes it’s not a tennis match. At the same time that can help you kind of play free and not get so stressed I think. I definitely have carried some of it with me, for sure.”