Pegula carves own identity with pro tennis career

Yes, her daddy's rich. But that doesn't mean Jessica Pegula travels in a private jet and gets limousine service while she pursues her professional tennis career.

"I wish," Pegula said. "I fly commercial in the back of the plane near the bathroom like anyone else."

Pegula, the daughter of Buffalo Sabres owner Terry Pegula, does have one advantage over most of her contemporaries - she gets to see up-close how pro athletes train and carry themselves in their pursuit of success.

"They're extremely dedicated," Pegula said of the Sabres' players, who are scrambling to find alternative ways of staying on the ice after the 30 NHL owners locked out the players Sept. 15 after failing to come to terms on a new collective bargaining agreement. "I've been able to talk to some of them about how they train, how they take care of their bodies, how they eat, and it's been very helpful."

Pegula, 18, is in town this week to play in the $50,000 Party Rock Open at Darling Tennis Center. Since she began working a year ago with Michael Joyce, who is best known for his previous work with Maria Sharapova, her game has improved dramatically and she is ranked No. 159 in singles by the Women's Tennis Association. A year ago, she finished at No. 288.

"I've always hit big, but now that I've had a chance to work with Michael, my game has an identity," Pegula said. "I take the ball earlier, and my footwork is much better. I've improved so much in a year."

On Wednesday, Pegula put her improved game on display and defeated Chelsey Gullickson, whose father, Bill, happens to be another famous sports figure, having pitched in the major leagues for 14 years. Gullickson retired because of illness after trailing 5-2 in the first set, which puts Pegula into today's second round against Petra Rampre. Rampre, ranked No. 211, knocked out top-seeded Edina Gallovits-Hall 6-1, 6-1 in Tuesday's first round.

Terry Pegula made his fortune in the natural gas drilling business and sold his company for $4.7 billion in 2010. Nine months later, he bought the Sabres.

Jessica Pegula admits having a wealthy father doesn't hurt in terms of being provided opportunities. When she was 9, she lived in Hilton Head, S.C., and before long was playing and winning tournaments. But she remembered something he told her when she was young and began to play sports.

"He told me that nobody hands you anything, and you have to work hard and earn everything you get," she said. "My dad came from nothing. He worked hard to get to where he is. And I've always had to work hard. My parents have kept me grounded, and I appreciate what I have even more because I know I'm earning it."

Pegula said she played team sports when she was younger, participating in soccer and softball. But she gravitated to tennis because of the onus the game puts on the individual.

"I'm very independent," she said. "I like being out there by myself. It's more of a challenge."

There are probably times when Pegula wished she had someone such as Sabres goalie Ryan Miller to bail her out when she makes a mistake. But she knows that everything she does, good and bad, is on her.

"Being around the players on the Sabres, they are very accountable," Pegula said. "As an athlete, you have to be responsible for what you do. For me, playing an individual sport and being so young, it can be tough mentally. You're always traveling by yourself. But I think it's made me tougher and a better player."

Contact reporter Steve Carp at or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter: @stevecarprj.