Just a handful of years ago, Jen Brady was playing low-level tournaments, losing in the first round of qualifying, sharing rooms and finding ways to save a buck here and there.
“I was thinking, OK, do I have a chance to make it?” she said. “Will I make it? How can I really succeed doing this? Am I meant to play this sport?”
She’s made it. On Tuesday, Brady advanced to the U.S. Open semifinals, into the final four of a Grand Slam for the first time at age 25.
Brady, the 28th seed, swept 23rd seed Yulia Putintseva of Kazakhstan 6-3, 6-2 to reach a semifinal against 2018 U.S. Open champion Naomi Osaka. Brady hasn’t dropped a set in the tournament.
“I’m pretty lucky to have just stuck to it,” a reflective Brady said.
Before this week, her best major runs came in 2017, when she made the fourth round at the Australian Open and U.S. Open, three years after turning pro out of UCLA.
Brady is the first former college player to reach the U.S. Open women’s semifinals since Oklahoma State’s Lori McNeil in 1987. The first years out of college in the mid-2010s were difficult. It took her three years to reach her first Grand Slam main draw, getting eliminated in qualifying five times.
Brady, citing improved fitness, has been strong this season, starting with defeating top-ranked Ash Barty of Australia before the pandemic. Last month, she won her first WTA title in Lexington, Ky., to become a seeded player at a Slam for the first time.
Still, she was nervous going into her first Slam quarterfinal against Putintseva, whom she had never beaten. And at (an albeit largely empty) Arthur Ashe Stadium, where she won just one game in her previous appearance in the fourth round in 2017 against Karolina Pliskova.
“Today, honestly, I was feeling like I was going to poop my pants,” Brady said.
She is the oldest American woman to make a Grand Slam semifinal for the first time since Marianne Werdel at the 1995 Australian Open. She also ensures that an American woman is in the U.S. Open semifinals for a 14th straight year.
Serena Williams could join her. She plays fellow mom Tsvetana Pironkova of Bulgaria in the quarterfinals on Wednesday.
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