Jessica Pegula, the daughter of Buffalo Bills owners, says Damar Hamlin’s incredible recovery inspired his performances at this year’s Australian Open.
Pegula qualified for the last 16 with a straight-sets victory over Marta Kostyuk on Friday and will face Victoria Azarenka or Zhu Lin for a place in the semi-finals.
“He is [Hamlin] recovered so quickly and so quickly that it just took a lot of weight off the teams, the players, the sport, the other players,” Pegula said, per WTA.
“Whenever I can experience that kind of story and incredible feelings, I think it’s good to try to take it with you in your matches.”
The world No. 3 wore Hamlin’s number three on her shorts during the tournament and said she has been in contact with the 24-year-old since his collapse.
Hamlin, who suffered cardiac arrest in a game against the Cincinnati Bengals on Jan. 2, was released from hospital after more than a week but is still facing a lengthy recovery.
Hamlin’s longtime friend and business partner, Jordon Rooney, told CNN the Bills’ safety still requires oxygen and his heart is monitored regularly.
“He’s visited the team a few times, but he still gets out of breath very easily. He’s upbeat and positive and ready to keep pushing through this,” Rooney said.
The Bills are set to face the Bengals again on Sunday, this time in the divisional round for a spot in the AFC Championship game at stake.
But for Pegula, who has never reached the Australian Open semi-finals, the episode gave her a new perspective on the sport that has become her life.
“Certainly some of that inspired me a lot,” Pegula said. “It’s cool. He also wrote to me a few times after I won here. It’s just amazing. I think it just shows you that people’s lives are on the line.”
She added: “It’s so much more important than sport.
“Sometimes we lose sight of that. Sometimes it’s not a tennis match. At the same time, it can help you play freely and not be so stressed, I think.
“I certainly took some of it with me, that’s for sure.”