WASHINGTON – In her third year of professional tennis, Jennifer Brady still takes every match as an opportunity to improve her game, and right now is concentrating on her grass game.
Brady knew the best practice is matches so she played several ITF tournaments this summer to hone her game on grass. Her effort paid off during the first round at Wimbledon, when she outlasted world No. 67 Kateryna Kozlova the highest ranked opponent she has beaten in a grass tournament in her career.
At the end of the grass season, she now has a 9-9 record on grass, with six of the wins added this year. As of last year, her record on grass was 3-5.
Now the 23-year-old hopes to keep the momentum going in more WTA matches.
“Everybody likes to win,” she said. “I prefer to play the WTAs and win.”
On Wednesday at the Citi Open, she played her first WTA tournament after Wimbledon.
The only time she had lost to her opponent, Natalia Vikhlyantseva, was at a grass court tournament in Hertogenbosch, Netherlands two years ago.
She took the first set 6-1, fell short early in set two, but came back after Vikhlyantseva’s service and baseline stability became a little shaky at 3-4.
Brady was aggressive on every shot and took three consecutive games to nail down the win when Vikhlyantseva hit the ball into the net.
“As a player, I think my whole game has got a lot better,” Brady said after the match. “The way I am playing is a lot smarter. I am using my weapons at the right time and a lot more confident in myself and my game.”
In 2014, Brady took off the fall semester of her sophomore year at UCLA to compete in some ITF tournaments while making her WTA debut at the U.S. Open, after getting a doubles wild card. Brady did not manage to go any further in her first Grand Slam appearance, but when she returned to school in January, she already went from unranked to world No. 219.
“I told myself I have a good foundation to start,” recalled Brady.
She said she wanted to take the next step because playing collegiate tennis wouldn’t help her game.
“She had a pro mentality as far as she was handling practices and her fitness,” said Stella Sampras Webster, Brady’s coach at UCLA. “We knew, once she gained that maturity at that time, that she would be ready to go out on that tour.”
Brady turned professional in 2015 and played her first WTA singles main draw at the Carlsbad Classic in November that year. She gradually moved her ranking up to No. 110 within a season and then she set down a goal in December 2016 to reach the second week of the Grand Slams.
Just one month later at the Australian Open, Brady made it to round 16 after going through tough qualifying matches and beating the 14th seeded Elena Vesnina. She was one of the four U.S. players who went that far in the tournament. The other three were the legendary Williams sisters and veteran player Coco Vandeweghe.
“I was actually a bit drained, exhausted mentally from doing a couple of things (other than playing),” said Brady, thinking back to early 2017.
Sampras Webster encouraged Brady to enjoy each game as an opportunity to challenge top players.
“Making her believe that she belonged there was the most important thing,” said Sampras Webster. “After she got a couple of those wins and beat those top players, mentally she would think she could do this just as good as the other girls.”
Brady made her second Grand Slam round 16 appearance at the U.S. Open in the same year. But after the successful 2017 season, she seemed to be struggling in 2018.
Having lost in the first round at the Australian Open, Brady was also knocked out in the second round at Roland-Garros and Wimbledon. At the WTA level, she has only clinched seven wins in nine tournaments. She played more ITF tournaments, which filled her schedule but were not very helpful for improving her rankings.
“It’s very normal that this happens,” said Sampras Webster. “In the first couple years, you have nothing to lose, you are playing very free. But now, it’s not easy.”
But she also believes that Brady has the skills to get over tough times.
“She plays with a lot of confidence. She carries herself very well on the court. She manages her emotions very well,” she said.
“Tennis is her dream. Doing what she dreams of doing, she’s already won.”
When asked how she would describe her career so far, Brady laughed and said, “short.”
Then she paused for a few seconds and added, “I can always do better, but no regrets.”