Did you know that the highest-ranked professional tennis player, male or female, from the United States is also from New York?
Did you know she had two major injuries when she was starting to play professionally which almost ended her career and he she had to play in dank locations around the world to get her ranking back up?
What about that, by all accounts, she is very well-respected in the locker room and is very respectful to support staff? That she is a great competitor who gets the most out of her abilities while still being a great sportswoman? Or that she started and promotes a rescue dog charity?
All of the above are facts. Does she sound like someone easy to get behind?
Now if I started this article, “Did you know that the parents of the highest-ranked American player owns the Buffalo Bills and Buffalo Sabres, and are worth more than $5.5 billion?”, would you find it as easy to root for her?
By now, some of you know I am speaking of Jessica Pegula. Admittedly, she does not have the flair, pure shot-making ability or charisma of some of the other Americans, but it actually annoys me that she is not more of a fan favorite. I think there may even be a perception that it is easier for her because her parents are so wealthy. I actually disagree and think her family’s history makes her story more impressive and respect-inducing, and it makes her one of my favorite players.
Actually, she is probably my favorite player on the tour. Why do I feel guilty saying this?
Sometimes I think people on the outside do not realize how much of a sacrifice it takes to be a professional tennis player. One of my best friends stayed at my house while he was trying to qualify for the U.S. Open when he was ranked around 150th in the world. Everything was measured, from what he ate to when he practiced to when he slept. And he was only Top 150 in the world; as of the writing of this article, Pegula is ranked third in the world.
Money can get you top-flight coaching, it can pay for airfare which can buy a better national or international junior ranking. Money can take a player with the talent of someone ranked 900th in the world and boost them into the top 300 by playing in frequent remote tournaments around the world. But money won’t buy you the number four world ranking.
In fact, having a family history like Pegula can provide her with every excuse in the world that she doesn’t need that ranking to have a fulfilled life. Instead of eating Bon Bons on a beach in Bora Bora, taking a prominent-sounding role with no real responsibility with the Buffalo Bills, or a zillion other indulgent paths, Pegula took the road of discipline, dedication and grit to get to the top of her sport. In my mind, the focus it must have taken her to accomplish this is insane.
Speaking on a tennis level, I would say she had as many or more distractions to become a top player than somebody who had limited means. I am in no way saying she had it worse or that players with less limited means would not trade places with her, but what I am saying is that the grit and focus to accomplish what she has when there are easier paths is truly commendable. And while people may be like “yuck, she’s rich” when they hear about her wealthy parents, they should look at it from a different lens and view her as someone who is to be revered. She is a professional success story who is clearly not playing for the money, and carving out her own path in life.
Ricky Becker is The Director of Tennis at Glen Oaks Club. Ricky also coaches high-performance juniors throughout the year and has been the Director of Tennis at three of Long Island’s biggest junior programs. As a player, Becker was the Most Valuable Player for the 1996 NCAA Championship Stanford Tennis team and ranked in the top-five nationally as a junior. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 516-359-4843 or via juniortennisconsulting.com.