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U.S. Open: Jennifer Brady advances to first major semifinals

Jennifer Brady returns a shot against Yulia Putintseva during the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open on  Sept. 8, 2020.
Jennifer Brady returns a shot against Yulia Putintseva during the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open on Sept. 8, 2020.
(Seth Wenig / Associated Press)

Jennifer Brady, a member of UCLA’s 2014 NCAA championship women’s tennis team, added another distinction to her growing list of achievements by becoming the first former college player in 33 years to reach the women’s singles semifinals at the U.S. Open.

Brady’s powerful, assured 6-3, 6-2 quarterfinal victory over Yulia Putintseva at Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York on Tuesday means she will be the first former college player to reach the women’s semis in New York since Lori McNeil (Oklahoma State) reached that stage in 1987. According to the U.S. Tennis Assn., if Brady reaches the U.S. Open final, she would be the first former college player to do that since Billie Jean King (Cal State Los Angeles) triumphed in 1974.

Brady, seeded No. 28, hasn’t lost a set in her five matches during her U.S Open run. Yet she said she was nervous before she faced Putintseva. “Coming into the match today, honestly I was feeling like I was going to poop my pants. I was very nervous,” she said during a video interview session. “I just tried to really stay calm and, like, keep it cool as a cucumber out there.”

Her semifinal opponent will be No. 4 Naomi Osaka, who defeated Shelby Rogers, 6-3, 6-4.

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In winning Tuesday, Brady also became the second former college player in two years to reach the women’s singles semifinals of a Grand Slam tournament, following Danielle Collins’ advance to the semis at the Australian Open in 2019. Collins attended the University of Virginia.

In a recent telephone interview, Brady said playing tennis at UCLA was the right decision for her career and her game. She credited coach Stella Sampras-Webster and associate coach Rance Brown for their guidance and vision.

Serena Williams came from behind in the third set to take another step closer to Grand Slam title No. 24 by beating Maria Sakkari 6-3, 6-7 (6), 6-3 on Monday.

“Me going to college, I think, was a great idea. I went only for two years, but I was able to mature both on and off the court,” Brady said. “Before coming into college, I definitely wasn’t ready to go pro. I didn’t have those results that all the other players had. I didn’t have the confidence in my game or myself, or things like that. It was never really an option for me.

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“So, college was kind of the only option that I looked at, and I was fortunate to have great coaches when I was at UCLA. They helped me improve on and off the court. They helped me find my way. Rance spent a lot of time with me — at the beginning of my sophomore year, I had a stress fracture in my foot, and he was out there hand-feeding me balls. I would be like sitting in a chair and still hitting. I was pretty lucky to have those two during my time at UCLA.”

Brady has repaid their kindness by joining video conferences with UCLA tennis players to offer guidance and advice.

“She has not changed as far as her humility. She’s so humble,” Sampras-Webster said in a recent interview. “We’ve had some Zooms with her and even with my current team, and they’re all so surprised at how she didn’t expect anything. She said she’d come on any Zoom with us. She’s not caught up in the whole thing of being where she is. She’s still just fun Jenny, and so it was really cool for our players to get to learn from her and see how she is.

“As a coach, too, you just hope they don’t get caught up in change just because now she’s getting special treatment at these tournaments, but I’m sure she treats everyone so kind and just does the right things, is being respectful to everyone. I’m really proud of her because she’s stayed the same in her core values and stuff and she’s just been playing some awesome tennis. It was really fun for our team to get to know her.”

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Brady, 25, turned pro in 2014 after her sophomore year at UCLA. She bounced around in the rankings but late last year decided to make a concerted effort to capitalize on her potential and left her training base in Florida to work in Germany with coach Michael Geserer. Her improved fitness and confidence were quickly evident, and they enabled her to win her first Women’s Tennis Assn. title last month at the Top Seed Open in Kentucky.

She’s certainly not the player who was overwhelmed in a 46-minute loss to Karolina Pliskova on the same court in the round of 16 at the U.S. Open three years ago.

“I know what I’m doing out there,” Brady said of the difference. “I believe in myself, my game, that I’m good enough to win matches and to be at this level and to be where I am today.”

Elliott reported from Los Angeles.


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