In a recent interview with Tennis.com, third-ranked WTA player Jessica Pegula talked about her American-Korean background and the groundbreaking achievements of her mom Kim as an Asian woman in sports.
Jessica was born in Buffalo, NY to Terrence and Kim Pegula, who are the multi-billionaire principal owners of the Buffalo Bills of the National Football League. They also own hockey team the Buffalo Sabres of National Hockey League, besides their other notable businesses and sports ventures. Jessica’s mother was born in Seoul, before being adopted by an American family at age five.
“A lot of people don’t know that I’m half-Korean,” Pegula told Tennis.com at the Credit One Charleston Open, where she’s awaiting her quarterfinal match against Paula Badosa. “A lot of the stuff that my mom did, being an Asian woman in sports, is really a big deal.”
Jessica’s mother is one of the few women in the sports ownership realm, which has traditionally been dominated by men. She serves as a trailblazer and a role model for other women who aspire to leadership roles in the sports industry, especially those of Asian descent.
Last summer, Kim suffered cardiac arrest and it was Jessica who gave a detailed insight into her mother’s health in an emotional essay published by the Player’s Tribune in February this year. Kim gave everyone a lot of her time and effort, never slowed down, and was the driving force behind her husband’s success. Even though she’s steadily recovering every day, her health is far from good, as Jessica explained:
“She is dealing with significant expressive aphasia and significant memory issues. She can read, write, and understand pretty well, but she has trouble finding the words to respond. It is hard to deal with and it takes a lot of patience to communicate with her, but I thank God every day that we can still communicate with her at all.”
In 2022, the Asian American Pacific Islander Tennis Association (AAPITA) was established to address the lack of funding, programs, leadership, and recognition for the sizable minority population in tennis. The board of directors, which comprises retired WTA player Vania King, five-time Grand Slam doubles champion Rajeev Ram, and wheelchair star Dana Mathewson, also includes the newly-crowned Miami Open doubles champion Pegula.
“It was an easy decision to join the board, once Vania asked me,” said Pegula. “I’m hoping we can get something going at the US Open, with the large AAPI community in New York City.”
Jessica is as hard-working as her mom. Even though she can enjoy her family’s wealth and lay back, the 29-year-old chooses to push herself and sweat it out on the tennis court. Sort of a late-bloomer on the WTA Tour, the five-time major quarterfinalist is raising the bar when it comes to her career expectations:
“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.”
After the Credit One Charleston Open, Pegula will play on the U.S. Billie Jean King Cup team for the 2023 Qualifier against Austria on April 14-15 at the Delray Beach Tennis Center in Florida.