On Saturday, Jennifer Brady will compete in her first Grand Slam final. With a three-set win against Karolina Muchova on Thursday, Brady, the No. 22 seed, will face Naomi Osaka for the Australian Open title. A surprise? Perhaps, but below is a timeline showcasing her rise through the rankings.
2012-13: The early years
Jennifer Brady had trained at the Chris Evert Tennis Academy since the age of 10 and in fact reached a career high of World No.36 as a junior, competing in three of the four Grand Slam girls' tournaments in 2012. But she would win only one match between them, losing to Montserrat González in the second round of Roland Garros, Elizaveta Kulichkova in the first round of Wimbledon and Antonia Lottner in the first round of the US Open.
"I didn't really have great success in the juniors," Brady said after her semifinal defeat of Karolina Muchova this week.
She had also failed to progress beyond the second round in any of her ITF Pro Circuit outings, though her first two Top 200 wins in March 2013 - over Kurumi Nara in the first round of the Innisbrook $25K, and over Johanna Konta in qualifying for the Osprey $50K the following week - might have been an indication of Brady's talent. Nonetheless, it wasn't enough.
"Other juniors my age were doing really well and having early success in the pros, playing challenger events and winning them," Brady recalled. "And then I wasn't even passing first, second round of qualifying. That was really hard for me, my confidence and my game. I took a hit there and thought, 'OK, maybe I'm not meant for this sport. Maybe I'm not good enough. I'll go to college for four years and then I'll find a real job.'"
2014-15: College on hold
At UCLA, Brady was a collegiate tennis standout, named as the Pac-12 Freshman/Newcomer of the Year in 2013-14.
"Her plan was to go pro after one or two years," UCLA women’s assistant coach Rance Brown told TENNIS.com in 2017. "She was ready. She would have gotten bored and stagnant staying here with the amount of talent she has and the type of game."
While in her sophomore year, Brady's professional success started picking up. She made her Grand Slam qualifying debut as a wildcard at the 2014 US Open, falling 2-6, 7-5, 6-3 to Carina Witthoeft. A first pro title came in September 2014 at the Redding $25K. The following month there was a notable victory over a 17-year-old Osaka at the New Braunfels $50K.
The following year saw Brady turn pro after completing her sophomore year. She cracked the Top 200 after reaching the El Paso $25K final in July 2015 and ended the season ranked World No.229. In November, Brady made her debut at WTA 125 level, defeating Danielle Lao, Elitsa Kostova and Marina Melnikova to reach the Carlsbad semifinals before falling to Nicole Gibbs.
2016: WTA Tour debut
In 2016, Brady began to make her move toward the WTA Tour in earnest. She made her main-draw debut at Rio de Janeiro in February, beating a future Top 20 player in Maria Sakkari 7-5, 6-2 to qualify before losing 6-4, 6-2 to Polona Hercog in the first round. In May, she made it to the final qualifying round of Roland Garros with wins over Aleksandra Krunic and Beatriz Haddad Maia and was only denied a Grand Slam main-draw debut by former World No.5 Daniela Hantuchova 7-6(2), 6-4. The following week, Brady posted her first Top 100 win over Patricia Maria Tig in the first round of the Bol WTA 125.
Heading to Asia in September 2016 paid off. In Guangzhou, Brady reached her first WTA quarterfinal, beating Anastasia Pivovarova and Danka Kovinic before falling to Ana Konjuh. She ended the year ranked World No.111, over 100 places up from the previous season.
2017: Grand Slam emergence
Brady began 2017 on the brink of a breakthrough. She made her first main-draw Grand Slam appearance after a trio of three-set wins - Victoria Kamenskaya, Barbora Stefkova and Taylor Townsend - in Australian Open qualifying. Brady, 21 at the time, would make it all the way to the fourth round, saving five match points to beat Heather Watson 2-6, 7-6(3), 10-8 in the second round. She followed that up with her first Top 20 win, a 7-6(4), 6-2 upset against No.14 seed Elena Vesnina.
Mirjana Lucic-Baroni eventually stopped Brady 6-4, 6-2, but her run had been enough for her to crack the Top 100 for the first time.
Now playing a full WTA schedule, Brady's results dipped slightly - until the year's second hardcourt major. In her US Open main-draw debut, she defeated Andrea Petkovic, Barbora Strycova and Monica Niculescu to reach the second week of a Grand Slam for the second time, falling to World No.1 Karolina Pliskova.
Asia proved a happy hunting ground for another milestone in 2017. In Hong Kong, Brady made her WTA semifinal debut with wins over Misa Eguchi, Zhang Shuai and Nicole Gibbs, with her run ended by Daria Gavrilova 6-0, 7-5. Brady's year-end ranking was No.64.
2019: Threatening the top
Brady fell out of the Top 100 by the end of 2018, but the next year, her play improved. Brady would meet Caroline Garcia three times in the first three months of the year - in Hua Hin, Dubai and Indian Wells - and prevailed in each, her first Top 20 wins since beating Vesnina two years earlier.
Brady was beginning to pose a threat. One round after beating Garcia in Dubai, she stretched two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova to three sets before falling 7-5, 1-6, 6-3 - the first set she had taken from a Top 10 player. In Toronto in August, Brady pushed freshly crowned Wimbledon winner Simona Halep even closer, coming back from 0-4 in the final set to force a deciding tiebreak only to lose 4-6, 7-5, 7-6(5).
Along the way, Brady's other highlights included her first WTA 125 final in Indian Wells, where she was runner-up to Viktorija Golubic, and a second semifinal in Nottingham. Brady landed at her highest year-end ranking yet at World No.56.
2020: A year of firsts
At the end of 2019, Brady went to Germany for pre-season training with new coach Michael Geserer. The results were evident. At Brisbane, she beat five-time Grand Slam champion Maria Sharapova 3-6, 6-1, 7-6(3) and World No.1 Ashleigh Barty 6-4, 7-6(4), the first Top 10 win of Brady's career, a run that led her to the quarterfinals. A month later Brady routed Elina Svitolina 6-2, 6-1 en route to the Dubai semifinals.
Brady was arguably better when the tour resumed following the Covid-19 shutdown. She dominated the field to capture her first WTA title in August in Lexington, winning 93% of her service games over five matches. Brady was not taken beyond 6-4 in any set she played, beating Marie Bouzkova, Coco Gauff and Jil Teichmann in the last three rounds.
Brady took the same form into the US Open two weeks later. Returning to the second week of a major for the first time since 2017, she reached her first Grand Slam semifinal. Once again, Brady did not lose more than four games in any set she played against a row of opponents including Garcia, Angelique Kerber and Yulia Putintseva - until she ran into Osaka in the semis.
There, she would push the eventual champion all the way in a top-quality 7-6(1), 3-6, 6-3 loss - a match that Brady will now hope to avenge in Melbourne.