DUBAI, February 21, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)
American Jennifer Brady’s tennis season had barely begun when she beat World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty in the second round of a WTA Premier hard court event Brisbane, Australia. What a way to start a new year!
Although the current No. 52 Brady would go on to lose her next three matches after triumphing over Barty in straight sets – against Petra Kvitova, Simona Halep and Svetlana Kuznetsova, all past Grand Slam champions – she’s found a new spark to her game this week at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships. Since arriving in the Emirates, the native of Harrisburg, Pa., who played collegiately at UCLA before turning pro in 2015, swept through three qualifying draw matches without dropping a set to reach the main draw. From there, Brady has enjoyed a run of in-form play that has seen her defeat (in order) third seed Elina Svitolina, No. 17 Marketa Vondrousova and, most recently, ninth seed and World No. 16 Garbiñe Muguruza – each a Top 20 opponent – as she strives for her first WTA title. In all, she’s won six straight matches and been on court more than nine hours.
While the 5-foot-10 (1.78 m), right-handed-hitting Brady knocked off Svitolina in straight sets (6-2, 6-1) and dropped just three games against the World No. 6, her other two wins have gone the distance. In her quarterfinal round win against Muguruza on Thursday afternoon, Brady squandered a 5-2 lead in the opening set and lost it in a tie-break. Then she regained her confidence and rode a wave of momentum to a 6-7 (5), 6-3, 6-4 victory over the Australian Open finalist.
The qualifier defeats Muguruza 6-7(5), 6-3, 6-4. pic.twitter.com/uXtC4En0A9
— WTA (@WTA) February 20, 2020
First WTA Premier-level semifinal
“I think really the match started from 3-2 in the second set for me,” said the 24-year-old Brady in her press conference after beating Muguruza. “Never really felt like I was in the match from the very beginning. I think maybe a bit of nerves … Yeah, I’m happy that I was able to close it out at the end. Didn’t play my best tennis, but just found a way to stay in there, compete, come out on top.” She finished with 30 winners and 22 unforced errors against Muguruza.
Brady, who was ranked 56th at the end of 2019 and will achieve a career-best ranking (somewhere in the mid-40s) by the time she’s finished in Dubai, will play Halep in Friday evening’s featured semifinal match on Centre Court (not before 7 p.m.). It’s also her first WTA Premier-level semifinal, something which Brady described during an on-court interview after winning her quarterfinal round match on Thursday as “amazing.”
— WTA (@WTA) February 20, 2020
Brady believing in herself
Throughout her endurance run in the Emirates, Brady has played aggressively and been committed to her shot selection, “believing” in herself. When she was asked what’s been her biggest improvement so far this year, she gave props to her team, which includes new coach Michael Geserer. She said she’s been taking her game “seriously and being as professional as possible.”
Brady enters her semifinal against Halep 0-2 lifetime and with her career win-loss record at 206-149. Besides her recent loss to the former No. 1 in Melbourne, Halep also came from a set down to beat Brady, 4-6, 7-5, 7-6 (5), at the 2019 Rogers Cup in Toronto.
Looking back at her 7-6 (5), 6-1 first-round defeat to the two-time Grand Slam champion at last month’s Australian Open, Brady recalled how she had set points against Halep in the opening set. “I wasn’t able to close it out. A couple good points from her, but maybe a couple passive shots from me. It’s more just every point, just playing the same. Regardless (if it’s) match point, first point, set point, just treating every point the same, leaving it all out there.”