In early January of the 2019 season, Jennifer Brady was a relative unknown at World No. 125. The former college star from UCLA had the potential to take over matches with her powerful game, yet struggled with the consistency necessary to compete at the highest level on the WTA Tour, despite some flashes of potential in 2017.
But, on Sunday, Brady’s final exam to becoming a mainstay on WTA Tour was complete. In her first WTA singles final against World No. 63 Jil Teichmann, Brady took the title in Lexington, 6-3 6-4. It was a comfortable week in which Brady was never really threatened and in which she catapulted up the live rankings to World No. 40.
But, let’s take a step back and see how Brady got to this point in her career.
After much success in college at UCLA, Brady reached the second week of two Majors in 2017 at the Australian Open and US Open. At the Australian Open, she had a big win in the third round over Elena Vesnina. During the US Open, Brady took out Andrea Petkovic and Barbora Strycova before a dramatic third-set tiebreak victory over Monica Niculescu in the third round.
Brady’s future was quite bright at this point, as she had established herself as, at least, an upset threat. Ending the year at World No. 64, it seemed as if she was ready to push herself up the rankings.
But, things don’t always work out as planned. Since 2017, Brady has not reached the third round of a Major. Brady has also never been past the third round of a Premier Mandatory nor Premier 5 event in her career. She ended 2018 with as World No. 116, much behind where she was in previous years, struggling to capitalize on her positive momentum from the year before. Brady struggled to get a handle of her big game.
After going as low as World No. 125 (as previously mentioned) in early 2019, Brady seemed to really figure out what it took to be a consistent player on the WTA Tour. She was able to get to World No. 55 by the end of the season and was establishing herself as a solid player with a good serve who could hurt opponents especially from the forehand side.
Brady even reached a WTA Indian Wells $125k title, leading Viktorija Golubic by a set in the final, before eventually losing in a tight three-setter.
In 2020, Jennifer Brady has taken significant leaps in her game, allowing her to challenge the top players on the WTA Tour. During this pandemic-shortened year alone, the American has beaten Maria Sharapova, Ashleigh Barty, Elina Svitolina, and Garbine Muguruza (in non-exhibition matches). That is a very impressive list of players to win over the course of a career, let alone a few months!
During the pandemic, Brady played World TeamTennis. She ended WTT Team on a five-match winning streak, having taken out players such as Sofia Kenin and Sloane Stephens. This provided Brady the match practice necessary to keep her sharp going into the resumption of the WTA Tour.
Then, in what is surely one of the weeks of Brady’s career, she won her first WTA Tour title without losing a set. In fact, Brady was only broken three times all week, which is a very rare occurrence for a WTA tournament, where service breaks are more common.
In the final against Teichmann, Brady was clutch. Brady saved all five break points against her (all in one service game) and only lost seven points on her serve in the second set. It was a calm and collected performance by a player that had every reason to be nervous, given she had never won a title above the $75k level and had never been in a WTA Tour final before (not including the $125k final).
Bringing on coach Michael Geserer during the second half of 2019. has been been huge in elevating Brady’s level. So, what has made the difference for Brady’s game? First, her rally tolerance is higher than it used to be. She’s able to hang in rallies and not over-hit on her heavy groundstrokes.
Second, Brady’s forehand and serve have become more effective. Not in the sense that she’s all of a sudden hitting at an unprecedented pace, but rather small technical elements.
As Brady stated in the virtual press conference after her semifinal victory, “…I’ve been working a little bit on…all aspects of the serve, mainly the…stroke and timing of the serve…more technique.”
And it’s clear that Brady has also learned how to more effectively use her forehand. When the American is able to get her feet under her, she cracks blistering forehands all over the court with heavy topspin.
Brady makes it so hard for opponents to be able to regain control of rallies once she is set-up on the forehand side. She is able to push opponents so far back in the court and dictate play, creating a miserable experience for opponents.
What Brady has done so well in 2020 is her ability to set points up with her forehand, as opposed to wildly going after balls at the baseline. She’s really done a great job of being patient during points and waiting for her opportunity to strike.
Where does Brady go from here, you might ask? With the US Open looming and many top players not participating due to coronavirus concerns, this is a great opportunity for Brady to, perhaps, make the quarterfinals or better of a Slam.
Obviously, the draw will play a critical role in Brady’s chances and it’s not good to heap pressure on her shoulders. But, given how Brady performed today, she is taking the next steps in her tennis career and is ready for a deep grand slam run.
And the US Open could be this opportunity. Over Brady’s career, she has, by far, the best winning percentage on hard courts of any surface. She has a 63% winning percentage on hard courts, compared to 50% on both grass and clay.
In addition to the previously-mentioned depleted field, this is also Brady’s home slam where she has had that 2017 success in the past. That should provide Brady comfort. And, with this title in Lexington, Brady’s confidence should be sky-high.
Jennifer Brady has had the week of her career in Lexington and she’s set herself up very well for a run at the US Open.
Main Photo from Getty.