The US Open has become a shining beacon in the Slam calendar for American women’s tennis. With the conclusion of the Round of 16 on Monday, five American women find themselves still with aspirations to claim the US Open Trophy. Madison Keys, Sloane Stephens, Venus Williams, CoCo Vandeweghe, and Jennifer Brady are all carrying the stars and stripes proudly for the US, showing that there may be life after all for women’s tennis in the States after the Williams sister era ends. Jennifer Brady is the least well known of these women, but is proving that her game is not any less developed as she seeks an US Open upset against #1 seed Karolina Pliskova on Monday.
Brady’s foreshadowed her US Open run with an equally impressive run to the Round of 16 in Melbourne this winter (stateside, at least) at the Australian Open; however, since then, the 22-year-old former UCLA Bruin has struggled to gain traction on the main tour, only making it past the 2nd round of a main tour level event once since then. However, she has shown herself well in all of her matches against bigger named foes this season, a harkening that her game was on the verge of another breakthrough. At the French Open, Brady lost 7-9 in the third set of an epic battle to Kristina Mladenovic, the hottest player on tour at the time. She also had a tough three-set lost to Maria Sharapova at Stanford, and a close 2nd round loss to Dominika Cibulkova at Wimbledon. In each of these defeats it was easy to see the potential for something special was there in her game.
Brady’s game is built around athleticism, a big serve, and a big forehand. Brady lists “clay” as her favorite surface and it is easy to see why with her smooth and agile movement. This movement was tested in the 3rd round matchup with tricky Romanian tour veteran Monica Niculescu, who sliced, drop shot, hacked, and lobbed Brady around the court. However, Brady never wavered in her game plan to be aggressive and move forward at any opportunity to take away Niculescu’s chance to float the ball into the court with her deadly back and side spins. Brady showed true determination to continually get in position to strike the ball confidently, making herself get low to every slice on the backhand and forehand sides to allow for maximum velocity on her swing.
Brady has also shown an affinity for a big kick serve that makes life difficult for her opponents. Throughout her three rounds of matches here at the US Open, Brady has been winning over 60% of her second serve points. In the third-round match with Niculescu she was often following the kick serve with aggressive driving forehands that came after the short reply. At 5’10 Brady is able to kick the ball out of many player’s strike zones and nullify aggressive return games.
Brady has also shown a steely confidence that has allowed her to adapt her game to what she needs it to be to win. Against Niculescu she was aggressive in the first and third sets–striking a heavy ball deep into the court, moving in to the net to take away the slice and angles of her opponent, and creating short angled winners. In her 2nd-round match against tour veteran Barbora Strycova of the Czech Republic, Brady was more consistent; willing to keep the ball in play and allow her hard, flat-hitting opponent frustrate herself into errors. Brady had 46 winners in the 3rd round, and only 11 in the second round against the Czech, but won the encounter 6-1, 6-1. Brady’s confidence has also allowed her to be calm in the big moments. Brady has played three wily tour veterans at the US Open in Andrea Petkovic, Barbora Strycova, and Monica Niculescu. Each has a different game with weapons that have allowed each to have much success on tour. In none of these battles did Brady seem lost in the moment. Even after botching match point in the second set of her 3rd-round match against Niculescu, Brady never seemed bothered by it. Many younger players wouldn’t have recovered from such a disappointing moment in a match, but Brady simply kept her head down and applied pressure to her opponent.
Brady will enter her match Monday as an underdog, but she will also enter with a game that is good enough to frustrate and beat the world #1 Pliskova, who hasn’t had a great summer swing, nor has played well in Flushing Meadows. If Brady is able to handle the big moment, she has the right tools to potentially upset the hard hitting Czech and find herself in her first ever Grand Slam quarterfinal.
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