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Battle-hardened Brady powers into second slam semi

  • Dan Imhoff

Jennifer Brady is fast making a habit of notching up Grand Slam semifinal appearances after seeing off fellow American Jessica Pegula in the quarterfinals of Australian Open 2021 on Wednesday.

The 25-year-old’s belief is sky-high after she surged home 4-6 6-2 6-1 to book a showdown with Karolina Muchova, the comeback conqueror of top seed Ashleigh Barty.

MORE: Barty boilover as Muchova outlasts local hero 

Victory over her good friend Pegula – the 61st-ranked surprise quarterfinalist – avenged a defeat at the Western and Southern Open last year and ensured she had reached the last four at two of the past three majors.

“I hope I make it a habit,” she beamed after the one-hour, 42-minute encounter. “Hopefully I have a new habit of making finals.”

The 22nd seed has her sights firmly fixed on going one better than her maiden run to a major semifinal in New York last September.

Should Brady gain the better of the Czech Muchova, she will have reached her first Grand Slam final without facing a top-25 ranked opponent.

Brady has now reached the final four in two of the past three Slams

Brady arrived in the quarterfinals having conceded only 17 games, the least of anyone in the women’s draw, and had dropped serve only twice.

Against the 26-year-old Pegula, however, she could not buy a first serve in the early stages – in the fifth game landing only 27 per cent – as she struggled to stay with her more measured opponent.

Overplaying and pressing for too much, too soon, Brady felt the contest rapidly spiraling out of her control.

Pegula's best-ever run at a major came to a screeching halt after the first set

“In the beginning of the match I felt the pressure from her, she’s such an aggressive player and once you give her a short ball the point’s over, you’re running side to side,” she said.

“I felt I was doing a little too much of that. I was telling myself ‘OK, maybe I need to change something, maybe I need to play with more spin’.

“It was hotter today so I think the court was bouncing a lot more, which was favouring me a bit more than her.

“I was looking to just push her back, try to get more on the offence on my own side of the court and then I think I played a really good third set.”

After blowing a huge lead against defending Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin in the Yarra Valley Classic leading in, Pegula strung together her best run at a major with wins over 12th seed Victoria Azarenka, Sam Stosur, Kristina Mladenovic and fifth seed Elina Svitolina – her first over a top-10 opponent.

Pegula had never passed the third round a Grand Slam before this year’s Australian Open, and will take positives from her breakout run.

“I think I've proved that I have the level to play with the top players now, which I think is such a stepping stone,” Pegula said. 

“It's not that I haven't had bigger wins in the past, it's just the consistency I was able to put together even the week before this, beating two players that have been at the top before, then being up on Sonia Kenin when I could have won that match and I didn't.

“I think I just proved that, OK, I'm sustaining that level right now. I think that's something I have to take moving forward.”

A two-week stint in hard quarantine lockdown has not slowed Brady in the slightest.

One of the most in-form players out there, she has now claimed victory in 21 of her past 27 matches, 18 of those in straight sets.

Unlike her clash with Naomi Osaka at the US Open, Thursday will be the first time she will play a major semifinal with fans in the stands after Melbourne’s lockdown restrictions were eased on Wednesday.

“Oh yeah, I’m delighted,” she said. 

“In New York it was an empty stadium, so it’ll be a new atmosphere here playing for me in the semifinals of a Grand Slam playing in front of fans so I’m really looking forward to it.”