No player at the top of the sport has improved as much as Jennifer Brady this year and on Tuesday the rising American took another major step forward in her career, outplaying Yulia Putintseva 6-3, 6-2 to reach her first US Open semi-final. She is yet to drop a set.
Although Brady may be unknown to the world beyond the tight circle of dedicated tennis fans, none of this is a surprise. She started the year with wins against the No 1 Ashleigh Barty, Elina Svitolina and Maria Sharapova. In her first tournament after the tour suspension last month, she won her first WTA title in Lexington without dropping a set. Her run through the first five rounds of the US Open has been a simple, brutal continuation of her form.
Across the net on Arthur Ashe Stadium, Putintseva is notoriously volatile in her attitude and temperament, but at 5ft 4in she prides herself on outsmarting her opponents with her deep toolbox of shots. Throughout the match, she was simply overwhelmed by the quality that Brady brings to each point.
Brady started the match bullying Putintseva with her serve and forehand, and she held for a quick 3-0 lead with three aces. When the Kazakh attempted to change up the match with a dropshot at break point down, Brady ate up the ground and landed a delicate angled forehand before holding to lead 4-0. Brady cooled down as the first set wore on, losing one of her breaks, but her serve navigated through to a 6-3 first set win.
The defining weapons of Brady’s game are her enormous serve and heavy topspin forehand and the difference in weight of shot was too great for Putintseva throughout. Putintseva attempted to throw off Brady’s rhythm by varying her shots and lengthening the rallies but she was only successful for a two-game interlude when Brady lost consecutive games from 2-0 to 2-2 in the second set after a series of backhand errors.
Brady responded with an incredible return game, immediately breaking back for 3-2 in the second set. Despite staring down the prospect of a first slam semi-final, her nerves never betrayed her. She served brilliantly until the end.
This moment underlines the different pathways to success in modern tennis. Both players were born in 1995, but while Putintseva was a top junior and immediately transitioned to the WTA tour, Brady peaked at a modest 35th in the ITF junior rankings. She eventually decided that college was a better choice before turning professional.
Until this year, Brady’s career high ranking was 55th and she dipped in and out of the top 100. Her rise further shows that not everyone bursts through as a wide-eyed teenager ready to take on the world. There are so many talented players yet to find the correct conditions to thrive. Finally, Brady has found hers and now she is a clear contender for her first slam title.