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