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“I earned the right to sit here”: Jennifer Brady’s path to the Australian Open final

Jennifer Brady prepared for the Australian Open in a 355 square meter hotel room.

Following a positive coronavirus test from a passenger on their charter flight upon arrival in Melbourne, Brady was banned from leaving the room and had to self-isolate for 14 days.

No access to tennis courts. No gym. No fresh air. No face-to-face sessions with your trainer or coach.

No problem.

Brady did what she did so many times in her unorthodox tennis career – she adapted and embraced the unexpected.

She had groceries delivered to her room on the first day so she could have oats for breakfast every morning. She found Hunky Dory, a chain restaurant known for its fish and chips, and liked it so much that she ordered it every day, sometimes twice. You FaceTimed with Sloane Stephens and Anett Kontaveitwho were also in quarantine. She refused to watch Netflix because she knew she was going to get too involved in a series and throw the whole thing out of bed. Instead, she liked to fall asleep.

For training, the 25-year-old hit balls in the mattress that were pressed against the wall. did footwork and speed drills for tennis balls on the carpet and used a stationary bike and weights that were provided. She stayed positive by keeping things in view and thinking about the bigger picture, but still didn’t have many expectations of herself when she entered the first major of the year.

There was 51 single players who went through the same tough quarantine protocol as Brady. She is the only one who made it through the third round. And now, as improbable as it may seem to herself, she will play against in the final of the Australian Open on Saturday Naomi Osaka with a chance at their first slam title (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN / ESPN app). The final appearance is just the latest milestone in Brady’s amazing upside-down journey to the top of the sport.

“Even before the quarantine, I didn’t think that I would be where I am right now,” she said after her victory in the semifinals in three sets Karolina Muchova on Thursday. “I wouldn’t say I’m incredulous. You know, I’ve definitely trained hard, I think I’ve earned the right to sit here and play in a Grand Slam final on Saturday.

“I’ve put a lot of work into it and I think it’s just crazy to believe – like watching a Grand Slam final [the] two players and you say, “Wow, that’s great that they’re in the final.” You don’t think about how it would feel if you were in this situation, so I guess the [tides] turned around and am here. I am in this situation. “

Brady was in the game from a young age and her talent was instantly evident. Her father was in charge of the student union at Evert Tennis Academy in Boca Raton, Florida, and Brady snuck into empty seats to meet at the end of the day. One day John Evert was made aware of a potential intruder and went to find out who was there.

“John went to the court and found it was Jennifer Brady and watched her a little and saw such athleticism and movement for a 10 year old,” said John’s sister Chris Evert, the 18-time Grand Master and ESPN analyst.

“He was very impressed and saw so much potential. He spoke to her father immediately and she was on the program the next day.”

Brady trained at the academy for the next eight years when she competed in local tournaments – even against Osaka and her older sister Mari, who also lived in South Florida – and on the junior track. She reached number 36 in the world and performed in three of the four girls’ Grand Slam events but was not happy. She was plagued by self-doubt after each loss and from successfully observing others her age.

“I only did it because I had to,” she said this week. “Because I had nothing else to do, because I didn’t know what to do other than walking and practicing five hours a day and just waking up and doing it all over again, I don’t know my whole junior career.”

Brady knew she wasn’t emotionally ready to get professional and instead made the decision to go to college. She went to UCLA, led the Bruins to an NCAA championship during their first season, and rediscovered her love for the sport. UCLA head coach Stella Sampras Webster knew Brady was special from day one.

“She just used every single game, every single practice session as an opportunity to get better,” Sampras Webster told ESPN in September. “She wasn’t involved in anything else. She knew that if she just kept working and stayed focused, she could improve enough to be a professional.”

Brady turned pro after her sophomore season and began playing mainly on the ITF circuit. She won four singles and five doubles titles at this level before she was able to regularly play WTA tournaments in 2016. She reached the fourth round at the Australian Open and the 2017 US Open, but struggled with consistency from week to week.

To change her training, she swapped the humidity in Florida for the German winter to work with her trainer Michael Geserer during the 2020 preseason. The move brought her completely out of her comfort zone, but it seemed to make all the difference. She recorded a victory over the number 1 in the world Ashleigh Barty in Brisbane to start the year and made it into the top 50 for the first time.

You defeated Elina Svitolina, another top 10 player who reached the semifinals of the event in Dubai the following month. After resuming the season in August after a five-month hiatus due to the pandemic, she won her first WTA title at the Top Seed Open in Lexington, Kentucky.

Weeks later, Brady had her breakthrough at the 2020 US Open, winning all five games in straight sets en route to the semifinals. She faced Osaka for a spot in what is widely considered to be one of the best games of the season. In a struggle of wills, the two served serves (neither was broken in the first sentence) and blinded with a mesmerizing display of powerful punching and athleticism.

Osaka ultimately won 7-6 (1), 3-6, 6-3 but has spoken several times about the Melbourne game and said that she “has never had to fight so hard, physically and mentally” and how she often thinks about it when facing other difficult moments on the pitch.

“It’s easily one of my most memorable games,” Osaka said on Thursday. “I think it was consistently of super high quality. To me it’s not at all surprising to see them in another semifinal or [a] Final.”

While not unknown – former Virginia standout Danielle Collins reached the semifinals at the Australian Open in 2019 – historically there have been few women who played at the NCAA level and then achieved high levels of success on the WTA tour. On Thursday, Brady became the first former female college player since Kathy Jordan in 1983 to reach a grand finale – an achievement with an impact far beyond Brady.

“Jenny’s story sends great news to our junior players who aren’t ready to turn high school into pros,” said Martin Blackman, general manager, player development for the USTA. “It’s inspiring [and shows] There is no one way. The biggest change in the game in the last 15 years has been the longevity of what players can do well into the 30s. So for someone who struggles a bit, gets stuck [ranked] In the 100s, they still have the chance to have a breakthrough in their late 20s if they focus on getting better or if they go to college. “

Brady took part in the Australian Open in 22nd place and will climb to a career high in 13th place by reaching the final. A win would take her one more place to 12th and catapult her to a new level of tennis star. She knows the stakes for the biggest game of her career, as well as all the expectations and hopes that come with it, and realizes that the experience against Osaka, a three-time big winner, is not on her side. But she has familiarized herself with the unknown and is looking forward to the opportunity.

“I think on Saturday I’ll definitely come out and be 100% nervous, but there is no hiding place,” she said. “I just have to accept it and enjoy the moment.”

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