Jennifer Brady leaves Melbourne with her head high and outlook bright after a successful Australian Open campaign that cemented her as one of the best hardcourt players in the women's game. The 25-year-old American's bid for her first major title fell short on Saturday, where she lost 6-4, 6-3 to World No.3 Naomi Osaka in the final.
"Not the way that I wanted it," Brady told reporters after the final. "But I would say it was exciting to be out there. I enjoyed every single minute playing in front of fans in my first Grand Slam final, and I hope there are many more."
Brady will make her Top 20 debut on Monday, at No.13. Her run to her first major final came off the back of a fantastic finish to the 2020 season. Last summer, Brady captured her first WTA title at the Top Seed Open in Lexington, Kentucky, and followed that up with a run to her first Slam semifinal, where she took a tight three-set loss to Osaka.
She would continue to be a threat on the hard courts, making the semifinals in Ostrava last fall, and emerging from hard quarantine in Melbourne to make the semifinal of the Grampians Trophy two weeks ago.
Brady's consistent success over the past eight months has solidified her as one of the game's top players.
"I think I belong at this level. I think winning a Grand Slam is totally achievable."— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) February 20, 2021
A positive @jennifurbrady95 after her first Grand Slam singles final experience 🙌💙#AusOpen | #AO2021 pic.twitter.com/lF2kvxUph5
"I think I belong at this level," Brady said. "I think winning a Grand Slam is totally achievable. It's within reach.
"Playing out there, obviously I was nervous, didn't go my way, but at the same time coming off court, I was, like, 'OK, that feels a little bit normal.' It felt different than what I was expecting it to feel like. If you were to ask me maybe a year ago, I wouldn't think it's possible, or it would feel like it's going to Mars."
To be clear, Brady showed no indication that she would be resting on her laurels, content to make a Slam final. In a match that saw her lose six consecutive games at one point in the match, Brady still had chances to flip the script on Osaka. She rued her inability to close out the game at 4-5, 40-15, and the put-away forehand she buried into the net on set point. The disappointment was obvious.
"I have mixed feelings," Brady said. "I'm pretty proud of myself, my team, for what we achieved here. We came here and I reached my first Grand Slam final.
"But also, I'm walking away with the runner-up trophy, not the winner's trophy, so that's a little bit sad.
"I think it's easier knowing that I had chances. I should have capitalized on the fact that she wasn't really making many first serves, and I think that's a huge weapon of hers.
"I think it's a bit reassuring knowing that also maybe she was feeling a bit nervous. So we're both humans out there, we're not robots, and you can have bad days, great days, but in the end I think maybe the better player usually wins."
The difference between Osaka and Brady on Saturday night was not much different than what turned the tables in New York last September. Osaka found a way to play the big points better. Whether it was the heavy forehand winner she hit to save break point in the 4-4 game or the athletic backhand stab that landed on the baseline to earn set point in the next game, Osaka found a way.
Asked what needed to be improved for her to get that major title, Brady said it was important to raise the level of her base game to ease the pressure in the big moments.
"I would say keep improving on my skills, my game," she said. "So that way when I come to these moments I don't have to play great tennis. I just have to play good enough just to win.
"This week or these couple weeks coming in here and making the finals here, after making the semis at US Open, I think just proves to myself that it's totally achievable week in, week out.
"There may be great weeks, there may be bad weeks, but I think that if I approach every single one the same, I think there is going to be a lot more good weeks than bad weeks."
Brady's next tournament is scheduled to be the Qatar Total Open in Doha, which begins on March 1. But enough about tennis for now. When asked what she wanted to do next after the match, Brady kept it simple.
"Go for dinner," she said. "Definitely not go on the practice courts, let me tell you that.
"I'm planning on playing Doha, starts a week from today, I think. I'll definitely take a few days off here, enjoy being in Australia and Melbourne, living my life, and then get back on the practice courts.
"But not right now. I don't want to look at a tennis ball."