Considered as a late bloomer onto the scene, Jennifer Brady followed down the traditional American pathway of college tennis at UCLA where she would slowly grow into one of the most promising prospects on the WTA tour. Battling through qualifying at the 2019 Australian Open, the talent was clearly there for all to see that it became a matter of when, not if, Brady would break into the elite category. Exactly two years later at 25 years of age, a grand slam final at the same tournament would serve as the catalyst to push on and reach new heights.
Or so it should have… In that same year in 2021, three consecutive walkovers along with being forced to pull out of her home slam in the same season was only just the beginning of a painful and long road back to recovery. In one of those forfeits against Jelena Ostapenko, the American felt a pop in her left heel which left her in unbearable pain and not aware it would be her last match in almost 24 months.
Speaking to The Associated Press, Brady admitted that the uncertainty was what she struggled to cope with the most. “I would wake up in the middle of the night in a panic, because I was thinking, ‘I don’t know when I’m going to play again.’ Or, ‘I don’t know if I’m ever going to play again.’ The unknown was so scary,” she explained.
"There was a period where I just lost a lot of motivation and discipline and all that. Because it was like, 'When am I going to play? When am I going to feel good? Am I ever going to feel good?' That's fine if I don't, but how much pain do I need to push through?" Brady said. "There was a lot of that back and forth and dealing with that." After experiencing two matches under her belt at an International Tennis Federation (ITF) tournament in Canada last month, the 28-year-old was finally reinstated with the very best at the Citi Open in Washington earlier this week. A combination of rust and nerves after such a long injury lay-off would be completely understandable, only there were no such signs in Brady’s dominant 6-2 6-1 victory over world number 28 Anhelina Kalinina. It was noticeable during that encounter that although Brady was striking the ball well, the same power as we have previously been accustomed to will only improve the more she is exposed to competitive matchplay. It was also a stern reminder that Brady is one of the most underrated movers on tour, creating nightmares for Kalinina to play the extra ball. The scary part? The comeback has only just begun.
Deep down the former world number 13 understands that it will take more hard work on the practice courts to be within the vicinity of challenging for majors once again. That came to fruition after fellow American Madison Keys brought Brady back down to earth in a 6-4 6-0 win in the following round of the Citi Open. However, Brady will be counting on her expected Wildcard into the US Open later this month to cement some consistency, but expect her to make some noise as soon as the Australian Open rolls around. Who knows, she may never return to her best ever again, and that’s a terrifying proposition for a player who openly admitted to being scared of the unknown. Time will ultimately tell, but one thing for certain is that the sport has regained a potential challenger for future titles and grand slams.