Jessica Pegula earned a quick and easy 6-0, 6-1 victory in her opening-round match at the 2023 Australian Open. And while her mind and body were sharp on the court in Melbourne, her heart was with her people half a world away.
Like many other Buffalo natives, the world's third-ranked tennis superstar has kept Damar Hamlin — the Bills safety who suffered cardiac arrest during a game — top of mind throughout the several weeks since his on-field collapse. But unlike other Buffalonians, Pegula has close personal ties to Hamlin and the Bills: Her parents — Terry and Kim Pegula — are majority owners of the team.
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So when the top American in the WTA rankings took the court against Romanian Jaqueline Cristian on Sunday, her subtle on-court nod to Hamlin came as little surprise to viewers in the know. Pegula wore a black number 3 — Hamlin's jersey number — in a white circle on the waistband of her skirt throughout the mere 59 minutes she needed to take down Cristian.
Later, after she sipped some water, took a bit of a breather, and completed her on-court interview, Pegula partook in one of the Australian Open's most recognizable traditions — signing the tournament's camera lens.
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Somewhat unsurprisingly, she took the opportunity to shout out Hamlin — who was discharged from the hospital in Cincinnati and returned to Buffalo less than a week after his terrifying episode. She also paid homage to the entire Bills team in honor of their narrow playoff victory over the Miami Dolphins moments before she stepped onto the court.
Pegula is a favorite to advance deep into this year's tournament — especially after reaching the quarterfinals at three of the four Grand Slams last season. With her newfound top-five ranking and the platform that comes with it, she's almost certain to continue spotlighting Hamlin and the Bills throughout her Australian Open run.