TEN: Former mainstay on HHI courts takes center stage at Aussie Open

A former Hilton Head Island tennis sensation has made her mark on the Grand Slam stage. 

After honing her game as a junior in the Lowcountry, Jessica Pegula shocked the tennis world Tuesday, stunning Belarus star and two-time major champion Victoria Azarenka on her way to a berth in the Australian Open’s round of 16.

After toppling the tournament’s 12th seed in straight sets (7-5, 6-4), Pegula kept the run rolling in impressive fashion, dropping just four games in the next two rounds. The island product creamed Australian Samantha Stosur 6-0, 6-1 before dominating France’s Kristina Mladenovic 6-2, 6-1 to set up a last-16 clash with fifth-seeded Elina Svitolina.

The Buffalo native trained for seven years at Smith Stearns Academy on Hilton Head Island. Coached by the legendary Billy Stearns, Pegula found her tremendous craft and began developing into the world-class player she is now. 

The 26-year-old first broke through in 2015, earning an opening-round victory in her U.S. Open debut. It took five more years before she found another Grand Slam win, but she went a step deeper in 2020, defeating Marie Bouzkova and Kirsten Flipkens in a pair of three-set grinders to reach the third round. Five months later, Pegula carried the momentum over to the land down under, making her name known with a spectacular upset and remarkable run that’s not finished yet. 

The budding star’s parents are also big-time names in the sports industry. Executives Terry and Kim Pegula are principal owners of Buffalo’s two storied professional sports franchises: the NFL’s Bills and the NHL’s Sabres.

The newest American tennis standout will look to continue writing a tremendous story this Monday, as Pegula eyes a spot in the Australian Open quarterfinals.

You can bet Hilton Head Island will be watching.

By Wes Kerr

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