By Giri Nathan
What I want from tennis this weekend isn’t that deep. It’s pretty simple. I just want to see Jen Brady annihilate some forehands. I want to see the racquet fly way back, then take its angry swoop up into the ball, which sails high, only to dive back into the hard court and bounce up over some sap’s head. I just want to see Jen Brady hit mean forehands, the kind no one else really hits, that look quite convincingly like the best and heaviest shot on tour. Is that too much to ask? And if Naomi Osaka is hitting them right back, just as mean, then we’re really set. The last time they clashed was a keeper. What a treat that it’s happening all over again tomorrow, with the stakes set even higher.
It wasn’t all that clear that Brady would even make it this far. She was one of the sorry few stuck in “hard quarantine” for the full fortnight, unable to leave her hotel room, in which she slept a ton and worked out twice a day and rejected the lure of binge TV. Her semifinal against Karolina Muchova was a patchy affair, though it ended as pure, unadulterated Good Television: a No. 22 seed and No. 25 seed daring each other to walk those last few feet up onto a plateau neither one had ever reached. At 5–3, 30–15 in the third, with the end in sight, Brady hit a signature stinging crosscourt forehand to open up two match points. The first was lost in a lengthy rally. The second was lost on a backhand that fell mere millimeters out, so close that Brady had already fallen to her knees and gotten halfway into a euphoric smile. Muchova knew she’d been spared and threw up her hands to thank the heavens, which I guess is where the Great Hawk-Eye In The Sky lives.
Little did they know they were in for eight more minutes of toil. They were about to display a full gallery of caricatured emotions between the two of them: anguish, disbelief, joy, and—okay, no, mostly anguish. Brady suddenly couldn’t find a first serve anywhere. Muchova swung big on those second serves with chances to break, but sprayed the backhand both times. But then she was able to do exactly that when Brady had lined up match point No. 3. Brady carried out a running dialogue with herself through the proceedings, colorful enough to make me wish I could lip-read, much of it looking sub- or post-verbal. And then when match point No. 4 arrived for Brady, Muchova flatly dominated the point. It was as if they were both capable of getting in each other’s way, but neither was capable of walking through the threshold herself. Back and forth, back and forth, neither player able to string together the points in the right order. Match point No. 5 finally drew out the Muchova error. Twelve total minutes and 18 points of agony ended there, and Brady took a well-deserved spill onto the court.
In the final she will get a well-rested Osaka, who was tested just once against Garbine Muguruza—to the full extreme, as she erased two match points and won four straight games in yet another unnerving display of iron mind—but otherwise has rolled through the whole tournament, in her increasingly familiar hard-court Slam way. For Brady, these second-week ventures into the big events are still novel territory; she’ll be looking to break Osaka’s 11–0 record upon reaching the quarterfinals of a major. It’d be tempting to project a blowout given how the three-time Slam champ has carved up her draw, but their US Open semifinal in September proved that Brady’s capable of matching Osaka in baseline oomph and unbreakable serving. That tensely wound match had all we could hope for: ball-bashing rallies, three sets, 70 winners, 35 apiece. In the wee hours of Saturday I will be placing an order for another one of those, please, extra spicy.
Above: Jen Brady fires the missile. (Getty)
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