It was imperative that Jennifer Brady was not over-awed in her first Slam final, and needed a solid start against former Australian Open and reigning US Open champion Naomi Osaka, especially having been a bag of nerves in particular in the quarter-final and semi-final. It was a gruelling first hold for the first-timer but found herself broken to love in her second service game.
However, Osaka found herself pegged back immediately as Brady struck straight back to get things back on serve.
There were other chances for both players, but a disastrous game by Brady with a double fault and a forehand dumped firmly in the net just swiftly handed the set over to Osaka.
It was clear that the effects of that game stayed with Brady for a while, as Osaka was quick to jump out to a 4-0 lead. Brady regrouped to break Osaka back, and was at least able to hold her last two service games to avoid a complete whitewash, but Osaka’s final game served out to love just served to underline how much more complete a player she was on the day.
A lot has happened since Osaka faced a hostile US Open crowd and beat Serena Williams in a chaotic US Open final. But she was quick to admit that the nerves were there, as she went 4-0 in Slam finals.
She said, after the match: “Tonight I felt like was more of a mental battle. I think we were both nervous. Of course, I can’t speak for her, but I was extremely nervous. I honestly just told myself before the match, I’m probably not going to play well. I shouldn’t put that pressure on myself to play perfectly but just go out there and fight for every point. You know, the outcome is whatever it wants to be, but I can live with the fact that I tried very hard.
“I have been in the position that she is in to go into the first slam. Of course I know the nerves that come with that. But then I was thinking on the other side, for me, I wonder if I’m expected to do better because I have been in slam finals before, so there was actually a lot of nerves with that. I would say I was conscious of it.”
Of course, the speculation now is whether se can emulate her hard-court success on clay or grass, and she admitted that clay might be more achievable. But with an amazing record already at the age of 23, just how many Slams could she end up with by the end of her career?
She said: “I’m taking it in sections. For right now, I’m trying to go for five. You know, after five I would think about maybe dividing the ten, so maybe seven or eight. I like to take things not big-picture. For me, I like to live in the moment. I don’t want to weigh myself down with pressure and expectations. I know that the people that I’m playing against are the best players in the world, and, you know, if my time comes to win another Grand Slam, it will come. But for right now I can only control what I can control, and that’s working hard and giving myself opportunities.”
When she played Williams in that final, she found herself beating an idol, and learning how to deal with a hostile crowd. Not everyone has that desire for longevity, but Osaka does want to have a similar kind of legacy to her career.
She continued: “I feel like the biggest thing that I want to achieve is hopefully I play long enough to play a girl that said that I was once her favourite player or something.”
For Brady, there was a lot to be proud of. Of all the players who arrived in Australia, she was the only who had been put into hard lockdown, and was the last woman standing from those who struggled after a positive test was reported on their incoming flight to Australia.
She said, after the match: “I have mixed feelings. I’m pretty proud of myself, my team, for what we achieved here. I reached my first Grand Slam final. But also, you know, I’m walking away with the runner-up trophy, not the winner’s trophy, so that’s a little bit sad. But I would say I’m pretty happy with my performance over the past couple weeks.
“I think I belong at this level. I think winning a Grand Slam is totally achievable. It’s within reach. You know, playing out there, obviously I was nervous, didn’t go my way, but at the same time coming
off court, I was, like, Okay, that feels a little bit normal. It felt different than what I was expecting it to feel like. If you were to ask me maybe a year ago, I wouldn’t think it’s possible.”
The Australian Open concludes on Sunday 21 February.
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