Sunday, August 16, 2020

American Brady bags first WTA title with win over Swiss

Jennifer Brady, playing in the 2017 Sacramento (Calif.) Challenger, rose
to a career-high No. 40 by winning the inaugural Top Seed Open in Lex-
ington, Ky. Photo by Rob Vomund 
U.S. women, unlike the men, have made big news in the past few years.

Serena Williams has lost her last four Grand Slam finals in straight sets in an attempt to equal Margaret Court's record of 24 major singles titles.

Sofia Kenin, who stunned top-ranked Ashleigh Barty en route to the Australian Open title in January, has skyrocketed to No. 4 in the world at age 21.

Sloane Stephens in 2017 became the second unseeded woman to win the U.S. championships in the Open Era, which began in 1968, and advanced to the French Open final in 2018.

Amanda Anisimova shocked defending champion Simona Halep to reach the semifinals of last year's French Open at 17.

Coco Gauff became a worldwide sensation by reaching the fourth round at Wimbledon last year, upsetting five-time champion Venus Williams in the first round, as a 15-year-old qualifier.

Lost amid all the hoopla, Jennifer Brady is quietly rising in the rankings. 

The 25-year-old product of the Evert Tennis Academy in Boca Raton, Fla., overpowered Jil Teichmann of Switzerland 6-3, 6-4 today in the inaugural Top Seed Open on hardcourts in Lexington, Ky., for her first WTA title.

"There's nothing better than playing at home in America," Brady, who improved to 2-1 against Teichmann and collected $25,000, crowed during the awards ceremony. "Every person loves to play in their country. To win a title on home soil is a great achievement for me and something that I'm going to be very happy about."

Both players were unseeded in the first WTA tournament in North America in almost one year. In fact, two of the three champions since the tour resumed on Aug. 3 after being shut down for almost five months because of the COVID-19 pandemic were unseeded. Also winning titles were unseeded Fiona Ferro of France in Palermo last week and the top-seeded Halep in Prague today.

"I didn't have my coach (Michael Geserer) or trainer with me during the lockdown because they're both based in Germany," Brady said on wtatennis.com. "We had great communication over the past four, five months. They sent me a plan every day. Over the past few months, I've been going nonstop, working and training really hard. Some days were tough, but through most of it, I was pretty motivated and knew what I was doing would help in the long run."

Brady, one of the few Americans whose favorite surface is clay, was playing in her first WTA final. Teichmann, a 23-year-old left-hander, had been 2-0 in WTA title matches, winning on clay in Prague and Palermo last year. 

Neither player had lost a set in the tournament entering the final. Brady surrendered only 25 games in five matches, dropped her serve only three times and saved all four break points against her in the final. Brady faced only one seed, No. 6 Magda Linette, ranked 36th, in the second round.

Both finalists rose nine places in the rankings, Brady to a career-high No. 40 (seventh in the United States) and Teichmann to a career-high-tying No. 54 (second in Switzerland behind No. 8 Belinda Bencic).

Because of Brady's success in Lexington and several U.S. Open withdrawals due to coronavirus concerns, she will be seeded at Flushing Meadows, Aug. 31 to Sept. 13.

Brady has needed time to harness her power and tame her emotions. She played at UCLA for two years (2014-15), helping the Bruins win the NCAA title as a freshman. In Northern California Challengers, she won the singles and doubles title in Redding ($25,000) in 2014 at age 19 and reached the quarterfinals as the top seed in Sacramento ($60,000) in 2017, losing to defending champion Kenin.

Also in 2017, Brady advanced to the fourth round of the Australian Open at age 21 and U.S. Open at 22. She became the first American female qualifier to advance to the last 16 in Melbourne in the Open Era.

Brady recorded her first two top-10 wins this year before the women's and men's tours shut down in March. As a qualifier, she knocked off Barty to reach the quarterfinals in Brisbane in January and No. 6 Elina Svitolina en route to the Dubai semifinals in February. Brady then played 19 exhibition matches during the hiatus.

The 5-foot-10 (1.78-meter) Brady converted only 33 percent of her first serves in the first set against the 5-foot-6 (1.70-meter) Teichmann, who was born in Barcelona and lived there until she was 14, and 44 percent overall. But Brady won 81% of those points (25 of 31) and 62% on her second serve (24 of 39).

Brady broke serve on Teichmann's mis-hit forehand to lead 5-3 in the first set, then capitalized on her fifth set point. Brady earned the only break of the second set in the opening game on Teichmann's long forehand.

Teichmann, who earned $14,000 as the runner-up, also lost in the doubles final. Fourth-seeded Hayley Carter, a native of Chattanooga, Tenn., and Luisa Stefani of Brazil beat unseeded Marie Bouzkova of the Czech Republic and Teichmann 6-1, 7-5 for their second WTA title. The winners split $9,000, and the runners-up shared $5,040.

Carter and Stefani starred at North Carolina and Pepperdine, respectively. Carter won the doubles title in the 2018 Stockton (Calif.) Challenger with Ena Shibahara, a native of Mountain View in the San Francisco Bay Area and former UCLA standout who plays for Japan.

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