MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Pro tennis player Jessica Pegula has Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin on her mind — and his No. 3 jersey number on her outfit — at the Australian Open.
Pegula, whose parents own the NFL’s Bills and the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres, is wearing a white screen-printed patch with Hamlin’s uniform number on her black skirt while she competes at the year’s first Grand Slam tournament.
Hamlin went into cardiac arrest and was resuscitated on the field when he collapsed after making a tackle during a game between the Bills and the Cincinnati Bengals on Jan. 2. He spent more than a week in the hospital, part of that time in critical condition, before being able to go home.
“I definitely wanted to do something,” Pegula said Wednesday after reaching the third round at Melbourne Park with a 6-2, 7-6 (5) victory over Aliaksandra Sasnovich.
“We were kind of figuring out what the Bills and the Sabres were doing, just as far as what was the message. I knew they would probably do something and what message were they trying to send. It ended up being kind of the ‘3’ was the symbol,” said Pegula, a 28-year-old who was born in New York and now is based in Florida.
“I just thought it would be cool to put on my outfit here. I thought it would be a fun way to kind of connect with the team and then also just show my support,” she said. “I felt like it was such a global event.”
Pegula reached the quarterfinals of the Australian Open each of the past two years, equaling her best result at any Grand Slam tournament.
She is currently a career-best No. 3 in the rankings — a coincidence that drew some reactions Pegula found amusing.
“I saw someone tweet that: ‘Why would you put your ranking on your skirt?’ I’m, like, ‘No, that’s not why,’” Pegula said with a laugh.
She said she watched the Bills’ win over the Miami Dolphins in the wild-card round on TV before playing her first match in Melbourne. Buffalo’s next playoff game is Sunday against the visiting Bengals.