Jennifer Brady, who has been flying under the radar at the Australian Open and has been in fine form throughout the fortnight, continued her amazing run by beating Karolina Muchova to reach her first Grand Slam final on Rod Laver Arena on Thursday.
I was feeling a little strange today. I was super excited but at the same time I was pretty flat-footed. I felt like I was stuck in mud. I didn’t really pick up my intensity until the beginning of the third set. I’m obviously pretty excited to be in the finals. Jennifer Brady
She is familiar with big matches at majors, having lifted her maiden WTA title at Lexington last year and reaching the final four at the 2020 US Open, but this was the first occasion she has played in front of fans.
Leading into the semis, Brady conceded only 26 games en route to the last four, the fewest games dropped out of any of the semi-finalists and looked to be the favourite, seeded 22 to Muchova at 25.
Muchova is a crafty Czech, though, who disregards form, having taken out Karolina Pliskova, Elise Mertens and the World No 1 Ash Brady in short order to contest her first Grand Slam semi-final.
She pushed Brady to the limit, but it was the 25-year-old American who prevailed, 6-4 3-6 6-4, in a match that took a shade under two hours and puts her into the final against Naomi Osaka on Saturday.
“I can’t feel my legs. My legs are shaking, my heart is racing,” grinned Brady after the thrilling match.
“I was feeling a little strange today. I was super excited but at the same time I was pretty flat-footed.
“I felt like I was stuck in mud. I didn’t really pick up my intensity until the beginning of the third set.
“I’m obviously pretty excited to be in the finals.
“It’s an incredible achievement but, I think, it will be a really tough match, obviously she’s won a few Grand Slams, we had a tough match at the US Open in the semi-finals.
“She even said it was one of her top-two matches, which was a little unfortunate for me.”
The 25-year old’s breakthrough run to the last four at the US Open last summer was ended by Osaka.
In Melbourne, however, Brady’s run to the final has been a charm as she avoided playing anyone ranked in the top 20 with the early exit of Johanna Konta, seeded 13, and Elina Svitolina, the 5th seed, in the round of 16 in her quarter.
In a tightly contested opening set, Brady used her heavy forehand to obtain a 2-0 lead before Muchova struck back immediately to get back on serve, helped along by an American double-fault on break point.
The pair remained on serve until 5-4, where a sturdy return gave Brady a set point and Muchova coughed up the opener with her first, inopportune double fault.
Muchova immediately grabbed the momentum in the second, rocketing excellent returns to break Brady in the first game and she never faced a break point, winning all 8 of her second service points in that set.
A return winner on the baseline gave Muchova a set point at 5-3, and this time around, it was Brady who double-faulted to end that frame.
Muchova cruised to a hold to start the third, and looked at that point the more likely winner, especially after Brady dumped a regulation volley into the net for 0-15.
The American, though, continued to move forward and gained a pivotal hold with her best tennis for a while, jolting Muchova into a double-fault and a wild forehand wide contributing to the Czech dropping her serve for 1-2 as Brady regained the momentum.
The early Brady break seemed to set the tone, as the American went ahead and never faced another break point until 5-4 when she brought up 2 match points.
With Muchova charging into the forecourt to polish off points, keeping herself in touching distance with her mix of skilled net play and jolts of power, a thrilling finish ensued.
Muchova thwarted the first match point thanks to a fine forehand and on the second, Brady thought it was over and sunk to her knees but, agonisingly, her ground stroke actually sailed long.
The Czech earned a break point but then sent a second serve return wide, and another second-serve return into the net accounted for the second chance.
The tug-of-war continued until Brady, still not finding a first serve, sealed passage with Muchova’s forehand long.
Brady dropped to the court for real, flat on her back with relief.
Thursday’s clash certainly wasn’t vintage but the conclusion surely made up for it as Brady found her game at the right time, in the third set, after a tally of 12 winners and 30 unforced errors in the first two sets.
The American ensured there was no comeback in Muchova’s first Grand Slam semi-final after the Czech said she felt dizzy and almost fainted in Wednesday’s stifling conditions, taking a 10 minute medical time-out before wrestling the momentum away from Barty.
She seemed more comfortable against Brady in what was another hot day, though far less humid.
Remarkably, Brady has dropped just two sets at Melbourne Park after her spell in hard quarantine.
The open nature of the women’s game is highlighted by the fact that Brady is the 7th woman to make her maiden Grand Slam final in the past 9 majors.
Five of the other 6 went on to win the title, including Sofia Kenin in Melbourne last year and Iga Swiatek at the French Open in October.
Brady will have to cause a big upset to do that, however, with Osaka one match away from matching her achievements of 2018 and 2019, when she won the US Open and Australian Open titles back to back.
Osaka shattered Serena Williams’ hopes of a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam title earlier in the day with a 6-3 6-4 win over the 8 times AO champion.
Barty and Osaka faced off in New York in September, producing a 3-set classic that prompted the Japanese to say during the Australian summer that it was one of the top two matches she has ever played.
Osaka prevailed that day and went on to lift a 3rd Grand Slam trophy, all part of her current 20-match win streak.
The two will play in Saturday’s AO21 final to determine this year’s women’s champion.