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AO finalist Brady: “I was not ready to be a Grand Slam champion”

  • Matt Trollope

Australian Open 2021 finalist Jennifer Brady believes her sudden ascent in the game was a case of too much, too soon, impacting her performance in that AO final.

Brady lost to Naomi Osaka 6-4 6-3 in the 2021 final, just five months after pushing the Japanese star to three compelling sets in the semifinals of the 2020 US Open.

Those two impressive major results helped elevate Brady to a career-high ranking of world No.13, just one year after being ranked outside the top 50.

But the 27-year-old has been besieged by injuries; she has not competed since Cincinnati, sidelined for the past eight months and plummeting to 174th.

Currently rehabbing, she reflected on that final at Melbourne Park in a recent interview with The Rennae Stubbs Tennis Podcast.

“That Australian Open final, I went into the match and I was like, I'm not ready to be a Grand Slam champion,” Brady admitted.

“Not that I don't want it, but I was like, I didn't know what to expect. And I was like, oh my gosh, this just all happened so fast. Making my first Grand Slam semifinal to then making my first Grand Slam final, right away. 

“I was like, wow, I don't know if I'm ready yet.”

Jennifer Brady (R) congratulates Naomi Osaka at the net after Osaka won their Australian Open 2021 women's singles final.

Stubbs then asked her: if she could go back to that time heading into the AO final, what she would tell herself now?

“That I'm ready, that I'm ready to hold the trophy, to be a Grand Slam champion,” the American answered. “Just play, just play your game, believe in it, and just have fun out there.”

Yet “fun out there” has lately been limited for Brady, who just six weeks after that run at Melbourne Park began experiencing the first of multiple physical problems that have derailed her progress.

Heel pain in Miami developed into extreme pain following her first-round match in Stuttgart and forced her to retire from Rome.

She kept pushing through to Roland Garros, where she somehow won two rounds before retiring hurt – having also developed compensatory back spasms – against Coco Gauff.

She skipped the grass-court season but two tournaments into her comeback she tore her plantar fascia in Cincinnati.

She went to the US Open – having not undergone an MRI, she did not yet know she had torn it – and while practicing felt a painful crack in her knee, which had also developed problems back in July. 

She ultimately pulled out of the US Open, with the eventual MRI revealing a stress fracture in her knee, which later required surgery to repair dislodged cartilage. 

She has been rehabbing both injuries ever since. 

“It was way too soon (to return in Cincinnati), I still was having a lot of pain,” she conceded.

“I remember practising and just crying during practice, but always just keeping to myself… I like to just push through it, (telling myself) you're not weak, just keep playing.

“I would probably be playing – I mean, you never know – but I could have prevented it from getting this bad if I had just listened to my body in the first place and shut it down for a couple of weeks or a month... before just trying to keep pushing it and pushing it and pushing it.”