Bold, Brash Bruin Brady Blasts Putintseva to Reach US Open Semis
Jen Brady doesn’t care.
In a clay court practice as a 10-year-old, she was drubbed by a player who’s pretty good at tennis – Chris Evert. She shook off that loss.
After winning the 2014 NCAA team championships with her UCLA teammates, she struggled for years in that tangled tennis jungle of wannabes, the WTA circuit. Slowly she emerged. But in the fourth round of the 2017 US Open she was Czech-mated in just 46 minutes by the ascendant Karolina Pliskova 6-0, 6-1.
That was then. Today, the moment is Jen’s.
Earlier this year, it didn’t bother the 25-year-old Brady that she was facing the No. 1 player in the world – Ash Barty. The American won in Brisbane. In Lexington, Kentucky, in the first American WTA tournament following the COVID break, she was in a field crowded with household names: Serena, Venus, Coco, Sloane.
No problemo. Brady won her first-ever WTA tournament. In New York, the Floridian came up flat at the Western and Southern tourney, losing her opener to No. 63 Jessica Pegula. But that now seems a blessing – she had time to dial in.
After her convincing 6-1, 6-4 fourth-round win over three-time Slam champion Angie Kerber, Mary Joe Fernandez could hardly contain herself. “She’s the best player right now in the draw…She has no weaknesses. She controlled the points. She was balanced. Kerber did not play that badly. I think she can beat anybody in her section of the draw – including Osaka.”
In a WTA world where one new champion after another emerges (think Sofia Kenin in Melbourne, Bianca Andreescu at last year’s Open, as well as Barty in Paris), Brady is poised for greatness. Okay, she confessed, “Coming into the match today, honestly I was feeling like I was going to poop my pants, I was very nervous. I just tried to really stay calm. She did. After dismissing Kazakh Yulia Putintsev 6-3, 6-2 she became the first former college player to reach the Open semis since Lori McNeil in 1987. She will face one of two US-based players: Naomi Osaka or Brady’s surging friend and practice partner Shelby Rogers. And, in the final, she could play Serena. “If Jen faces Osaka,” said Cliff Drysdale, “It will be a slugfest fest for the ages.”
Jennifer’s had a good draw. Pliskova lost early – that helped. Still, Brady is playing lights out. While others have struggled, no one has won more than four games in a set off of her. That’s works, especially when you have a dicey thigh. The No. 28 seed has a mighty toolbox. She blessed with a good-in-any-sport athleticism and slides like a clay-meister. But her lethal forehand is her weapon. Is it as good as Serena’s, Osaka’s or Bianca Andreescu’s? Let the debate begin. And her serve is massive. After one of her 124 mph blasts today, commentator Alexander Stevenson gushed, “That serve was Serena-like.”
Brady uses her well-placed serves to take control. Often she hits wide and then closes with her forehand. She’s not a boxer, but she sure has a one-two punch. Plus, Brady now has far greater movement – she can dig balls out of corners. She’s in better shape and confides that she no longer has to bail out early in rallies. Last winter she crossed the ocean to work with a calm, demanding European coach. She says veteran Michael Geserer brings a German mentality that has changed the structure of her game. Her focus has improved. She’s gained confidence.
In Sunday’s fourth round, Brady faced the experienced and fiesty Angie Kerber, who makes you work. Piece of cake. The German three-time Slam champ didn’t have much of a chance. Jen was always on the offensive, playing aggressively and often staying ahead in the points and, without all that much bother, became the first former college player to reach the quarters since Clemson’s Gigi Fernandez in 1994.
Brady has lots of spin on her ball and lots more money in her bank account. She’s already won $800,000. “She has to be thinking big,” said Brad Gilbert: “Why not me? And why not now?” Rennae Stubbs insisted, “Jennifer can absolutely win this tournament if she believes in herself.”
We have seen, in Kentucky and New York, that Jennifer Brady believes and Jennifer Brady cares.