ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (WIVB) — Bills fans have made their presence known at Jessica Pegula’s tennis matches over the years. The top-ranked American player in the world returned serve Tuesday.
The daughter of Bills and Sabres owners Terry and Kim Pegula visited practice, accompanied by a camera crew for the Netflix series “Break Point,” on her way to New York City for next week’s U.S. Open.
“It’s always really cool,” said Jessica Pegula, who wore a Bills ballcap with a tennis outfit for her appearance. “I love learning about other athletes, their processes and how they handle things. So for me, it’s really fun to come out and watch practice.”
Pegula addressed the team huddle at the end of practice. She conversed with coach Sean McDermott walking off the field, also interacting with general manager Brandon Beane and star defensive player Von Miller. Pegula then went inside the fieldhouse to hit tennis balls from the 50-yard to Josh Allen and the rest of the Bills quarterbacks in the end zone. She even got some football throwing practice in.
“It’s a lot of fun to tie two totally different sides of my life together in a really cool way,” Pegula said.
Pegula’s older sister Kelly and younger brother Matt also attended Tuesday’s practice. The No. 3 ranked player in the Women’s Tennis Association said she doesn’t get to spend as much time around the teams her family owns as she would like.
“I literally don’t know if I’ve seen them practice since training camp maybe a couple years ago,” Pegula said. “I’m never here. Everybody gets this notion that I’m friends with everybody. Some of them I’ve never met in person. My schedule is crazy, and it doesn’t really align with their schedule. So it’s hard for me to see a lot of this.”
Pegula is reminded of her connection to Buffalo sports at most every tournament she competes in.
“I feel like everywhere I go and even internationally, there is always a Bills or Sabres fan in the premise of the stadium or courts — and someone yelling Go Bills!” she said. “So it’s really cool how international I feel like Buffalo is in that way.”
Pegula appreciated Bills players Dion Dawkins and Kaiir Elam watching her play at the Miami Open in April, and Dawkins made the trip abroad last month to attend Wimbledon, where Pegula reached the quarterfinals for the first time in her career.
“It’s been cool to see them all support me,” Pegula said. “Cool to get two sports to merge a little bit, even though they are not two sports you think would.”
Pegula, who has reached the quarterfinals of each Grand Slam tournament over the past year, noted how her rise in tennis has mirrored the Bills’ ascent in the NFL.
“They are doing their thing, I am doing mine, and they somehow come together at the same time and people seem to be drawn to that,” she said. “To me, it’s special and fun to be on the same pathway.”
Other players on tour have been quick to tell Pegula when Bills’ performances have benefited their fantasy teams. European tennis players, on the other hand, are more likely to talk to her about the Sabres.
“Some of them don’t know football, so I say, OK great, you’re a Bills fan,” Pegula said. “You are going to root for this team, even if you don’t know where it is or how to play.”
Pegula is especially proud to be going into the U.S. Open as the highest-ranked male or female tennis player representing the host country.
“It’s just a very rewarding feeling,” Pegula said. “It’s something I dreamt of, but you don’t really realize it until it happens. It’s just an hour and such a cool thing to hear someone say that as you walk on to a court or stadium.”
Six players were sidelined for the Bills’ first practice of the final preseason week: Linebackers Terrel Bernard (hamstring) and Dorian Williams (calf), quarterback Matt Barkley (elbow), receiver Khalil Shakir (ribs), offensive lineman Greg Mancz (knee) and defensive tackle Eli Ankou (calf). Tight end Dawson Knox practiced after missing the second preseason game with a pinky finger injury.
Jonah Bronstein joined the WIVB squad in 2022 as a digital sports reporter. The Buffalonian has covered the Bills, Sabres, Bandits, Bisons, colleges, high schools and other notable sporting events in Western New York since 2005, for publications including The Associated Press, The Buffalo News, and Niagara Gazette. Read more of his work here.