CHARLESTON, S.C.—Jessica Pegula’s Miami Open began on Thursday, March 23, with a straight-sets win over Katherine Sebov, a 24-year-old ranked 169 ranking spots lower than the American. It ended late Sunday afternoon, on April 2, with a straight-sets win alongside partner Coco Gauff. It was Pegula’s fifth doubles title with her compatriot, who is 10 years her junior.

None of this would be entirely surprising if Pegula was a veteran doubles specialist, entering as many draws as possible while cashing the occasional singles paycheck. But in age, Pegula is not yet 30, and she is playing the best tennis of her career. In ranking, she is the third-best player on the WTA tour in singles, and the world No. 4 in doubles. Her calendar belies her status, more befitting one of a tour journeywoman, or a Major League Baseball team. In between those two victories in Miami, there was exactly one day Pegula didn’t play a match.

Pegula will always be associated with Buffalo, given her family’s ownership of the National Football League’s Bills and the National Hockey League’s Sabres. But in what may come as a surprise to some, she’s a full-time Florida resident, with a house in tennis-mad Boca Raton. During the Miami Open, you might even say Pegula roughed it, opting for the 40-minute drive down I-95 to the tournament site most days, rather than staying in the city.


It’s not as if Pegula went all-in on just her home tournament, though. Since Wimbledon last summer, Pegula has completed 12 WTA tournaments. She entered the singles and doubles events at every one—and on top of that, signed up for mixed doubles at the two majors, where player commitments are rampant and recovery time is coveted.

She also played five singles and four doubles matches at the season-opening United Cup (which, with its late-December start, gave Pegula the distinction of playing a professional tennis match in all 12 months last year), and next week she’ll be enlisted for singles and doubles duty as the U.S. plays a Billie Jean King Cup tie in Delray Beach, Fla.

So, what did Pegula do on Monday, April 3, after her Miami marathon and a non-stop start to the season? What else—she came to Charleston for a tournament.

By car, by the way, with her husband and three dogs in tow.

“Eight hours,” Pegula says during our sit-down interview the next day. “Not really any good stops, like one Chick-fil-A stop, couple gas stations, that’s about it.”


Pegula began her road to Roland Garros with a road trip to green-clay Charleston.

Pegula began her road to Roland Garros with a road trip to green-clay Charleston.

“She works so hard”

“Sorry,” Pegula says to her hitting partner after a few mishits during Tuesday’s practice. She doesn’t need to say it—it’s not like she means to hit the ball long, or that it’s the greatest transgression in tennis. And it is her first time on clay, after all, after three months of hard-court competition.

Those three months have largely been a continuation of a 2022 season that saw Pegula become the top-ranked American in all of tennis, win her first WTA 1000 singles title, and reach three Grand Slam quarterfinals. All while doing exceptional doubles duty.

“Knowing her background, she doesn’t have to work at anything. And she works so hard,” says Dan Clinard, wearing a Buffalo Bills hat and a Rochester Institute of Technology jacket, while watching Pegula practice. Clinard lives in Orchard Park, N.Y.—the town where Highmark Stadium is located—but drove to Charleston during his family’s vacation in Myrtle Beach, S.C.


“She could say, ‘I want to run the Bills or Sabres someday.’ And instead, she says, ‘I want to be the best tennis player in the world.’ It’s impressive.”

Whether it’s been part of a national team or a doubles team, Pegula has found success this season as well. The U.S. won the inaugural United Cup, and with Gauff, the 29-year-old has taken home 500-level (Doha) and 1000-level (Miami) doubles titles.

But you could argue that Pegula’s sustained level of excellence over the past two seasons, not unlike the Bills, has raised the bar for success—especially in singles. Deep runs have been a given at this point, but unfortunately for Pegula, so have painful defeats:

  • Her record in Grand Slam quarterfinals is now 0-5 after a 6-4, 6-1 loss to Victoria Azarenka in Melbourne.
  • In Doha and Dubai, she reached the final and semifinals, respectively, but lost her last set in each match 6-0. (To Iga Swiatek in Doha; to Barbora Krejcikova in Dubai.)
  • The last set she played at Indian Wells was the opposite extreme: Petra Kvitova won a deciding tiebreak, 13-11.
  • Pegula reached the semifinals in Miami, and twice served for the first set against Elena Rybakina. Both times, she was broken, and she went on to lose the match in straights.

By WTA standards, Pegula is a late bloomer, making a leap into the Top 20 at age 27. Even so, it’s hard to believe that a player of her caliber, with her level of consistency, and with a ranking in the Ashe Stadium nosebleeds, has just two singles titles to her name.

“I think I’m getting to the point where my goals have switched to, now I’m going deep in Grand Slams, I want to win a Grand Slam,” Pegula says. “And the same thing for the 1000s and all the bigger events. I want to do better, I want to start winning them.”


Over the next two months, Pegula will play a slew of big events, all on clay—a surface that isn’t toxic to this American. She spent time growing up in nearby Hilton Head Island, and training on its signature Har-Tru. Two of her best results from 2022 came in Madrid (runner-up) and Roland Garros (quarterfinalist). That red-clay run exceeded Pegula’s expectations, but showed what’s possible even with modest goals.

There’s no time of year that Pegula doesn’t relish playing tennis, but no time like the present to find what’s eluded her.

“I don’t think I would be disappointed [if I didn’t win a Slam],” she says, “but I think my goals and belief in what I can achieve—those definitely go up. It seems like they’ve gone up a lot in the last couple of years. I’m giving myself opportunities and chances it feels like every week.

“That’s the goal—I think singles, or doubles, either one. I play both because I want to win.”


“I think I’m getting to the point where my goals have switched to, now I’m going deep in Grand Slams, I want to win a Grand Slam,” Pegula says.

“I think I’m getting to the point where my goals have switched to, now I’m going deep in Grand Slams, I want to win a Grand Slam,” Pegula says.

“Such a well-balanced person”

During our conversation, Pegula exudes a word she’s uttered a few times already in press: balance. She’s generous with her time and thoughtful in her answers to a wide range of questions. But she is also surely looking forward to wrapping her day on Daniel Island, and heading back to Isle of Palms, where she’s staying during her pups’ “dog vacation week.”

She laughs as soon as I mention the Stella Artois partnership she landed, via Instagram happenstance, while in Miami.

“That was totally a true event!” she says, assuring me that it wasn’t a work.

The collab made sense, given Pegula’s sudden ascent to tennis meme after she sipped a Heineken during a US Open press conference.

“I thought, OK, if I do bring this beer, maybe someone will care…but I didn’t think it was going to blow up like that,” she says. (Ed’s note: I knew it would, once I saw it in person.)

“I have so many people who come up to me, even after matches or practices, and are like, ‘We love when you drank the beer!’ I guess it was relatable.”

But Pegula does far, far more than help push pilsner in her limited spare time. And two of her most notable off-court endeavors tie back to what matters most of all.


Kim Pegula, president and CEO of Pegula Sports and Entertainment, at the 2019 NHL Draft.

Kim Pegula, president and CEO of Pegula Sports and Entertainment, at the 2019 NHL Draft.

Around the 2022 US Open, the Asian American Pacific Islander Tennis Association (AAPITA) was created in response to a sizable minority population being woefully underserved in terms of funding, programs, leadership and recognition. Its board of directors include former player Vania King, five-time Grand Slam doubles champion Rajeev Ram, and wheelchair star Dana Mathewson. It also includes the indefatigable Pegula.

As King, AAPITA President, told me in New York last year, Jessie is “such a well-balanced person; philanthropic, entrepreneurial, incredibly talented and even keeled.”

Notice that b-word King used.

“A lot of people don’t know that I’m half-Korean,” Pegula says eagerly. “A lot of the stuff that my mom did, being an Asian woman in sports, is really a big deal.”

Kim Pegula’s visibility as co-owner of Buffalo’s pro sports teams may not have been unusual for Jessie and her four siblings (brothers Michael and Matthew, sisters Laura and Kelly), but it was incredibly important for other Asian-Americans, and particularly Asian-American women, to recognize.

“It was an easy decision to join the board, once Vania asked me,” says Pegula. “I’m hoping we can get something going at the US Open, with the large AAPI community in New York City.”


Pegula is as capable a leader as the organization could ask for, considering what she did a few months later. With her mother out of the public eye for months, and at the time for unknown reasons, it was Jessica who shed light on the matter with a detailed and emotional essay published by the Player’s Tribune. She largely wrote the piece while in Australia during the first month of the season.

“It just came super natural as far as me writing it, and then releasing it when I wanted to do it,” Pegula says. (It was published just before the Super Bowl, the first in many years that Kim was unable to attend.) “It kind of all clicked into place.”

Theoretically, anyone in the Pegula family, individually or collectively, could have revealed the news that Kim had suffered cardiac arrest last summer, and is still recovering. Jessica took it upon herself to be the family voice, delivering an update that, while concerning to read, was a brave message many needed to hear.

The response to it was equally as striking.

“I thought I would get a good response, but I didn’t think it would be that large,” Pegula says. “Not only from the outside world, but also within the WTA as well, the tennis world.”

Chalk it up to Pegula never resting when she feels something is important.

“As soon as I got home, I was just like, alright, this is what I want to do. I’m going to do it.”


If the top-ranked American is feeling any pressure, she does a great job of hiding it.

If the top-ranked American is feeling any pressure, she does a great job of hiding it.

“I can always find the good”

If you watched Pegula play for the very first time on Wednesday in Charleston, you wouldn’t have known that this ball-hitting, dog-loving, cause-leading, beer-drinking, thought-provoking, Interstate-driving Floridian would have been focused on anything except her craft. She won her opening match 6-2, 6-0, dominating Anna Blinkova with a shotmaking repertoire that all but the best opposition can succumb to.

“There are times where you feel a little overwhelmed,” Pegula says about herself, “but I think that as long as you’re able to balance it OK, and still enjoy what you’re doing—and I feel like I always enjoy it, even if it’s some stuff that I don’t really feel like doing. I can always find the good in it.

“I think as long as you balance it, learn how to say no to certain things that maybe aren’t a priority for your time, or your career. Make time for yourself, always, I think that’s important.”

She’ll have a little bit more time to herself than usual in Charleston, as Pegula is taking a rare tournament off from doubles. Whether that helps or hurts her singles chances here remains to be seen, but it’s a safe bet that she’ll still find ways to keep busy.

“Coming here, even though it’s a tough turnaround for me, it’s still a lot of positives,” Pegula tells me on an idyllic Lowcountry afternoon. “I get to come to a great place, a lot of people that I know here, people that I grew up with. Come here with my husband, my dogs—those are all really great things.

“No matter what, I try to balance it as best I can.”