Washington | Brady makes winning return, Keys next

Tuesday in Washington saw the return of Jennifer Brady to the WTA Tour, and she celebrated with an impressive win over Anhelina Kalinina at the Mubadala Citi DC Open, the WTA 500 hard court tournament that kicks off this year’s US Open Series.

There was a period where I just lost a lot of motivation and discipline and all that. Because it was like, 'When am I going to play? When am I going to feel good? Am I ever going to feel good?' That's fine if I don't, but how much pain do I need to push through? There was a lot of that back and forth and dealing with that. Jennifer Brady

After nearly 2 full years away, Brady, the 2021 Australian Open finalist, dominated the Ukrainian, 6-2 6-1, in her 1st-round match, and relished her return to competitive play.

The 28-year-old, who had been sidelined by knee and foot injuries since the summer of 2021, looked to be back at full strength as she beat Kalinina, ranked No 28 in the world, in just 68 minutes.

She endured a fracture in her right knee and a tissue tear in her left foot that kept her away for 713 days, uncertain whether she would ever play again.

“I would wake up in the middle of the night in a panic, because I was thinking, ‘I don’t know when I’m going to play again.’ Or, ‘I don’t know if I’m ever going to play again,'” Brady said in an interview with The Associated Press. “The unknown was so scary.”

On Tuesday she won a whopping 18 of 20 first-service points, 90%, and converted 6 of 9 break point opportunities as she showed off some of the skills that used to carry her to the latter stages of hard-court Grand Slam tournaments.

She consistently delivered serves faster than 105 mph (170 kph), and followed up with quick-strike, big-hitting baseline play, using forehands and backhands to claim points quickly.

“There was a period where I just lost a lot of motivation and discipline and all that,” Brady admitted. “Because it was like, ‘When am I going to play? When am I going to feel good? Am I ever going to feel good?’

“That’s fine if I don’t, but how much pain do I need to push through? There was a lot of that back and forth and dealing with that.”

Brady, who played college tennis at UCLA, has been ranked as high as 13 in the world, but currently sits at No 1,056 after being sidelined since August 2021.

While it will take time to acclimatise herself back on tour, Brady felt good in claiming 10 of the match’s last 11 games, as her shoes squeaked around the court, sometimes sliding or nearly doing the splits in chasing down Kalinina’s strokes.

“Deep down, I was like: ‘No, it can’t be over. You can’t be done yet’,” Brady said about the toughest moments of her time away. “I’ll just grind through it. Some days I was like, ‘OK, I can’t.’ Part of me was like, ‘OK, maybe this is the end.’ And the other part of me,” she added, breaking into a smile, “was like: ‘No. No chance. You can get back. You can get back’.”


Home favourite Hailey Baptiste took out former World No 1 Karolina Pliskova in 3 sets in Washington on Tuesday

mubadalacitidcopen.com

Two other Americans also won early on Tuesday, with qualifier Hailey Baptiste defeating Czech Karolina Pliskova, 6-1 0-6 6-3, and Peyton Stearns topping Poland’s Magdalena Frech, 6-1 6-4.

Baptiste, a Washington DC native ranked 204, ousted the former World No 1 in 1 hour and 25 minutes of play on Stadium Court.

“I think that the variety that I used really made a difference today,” Baptiste said afterwards. “In the third set, I was being a little bit more aggressive, and, I think, that, in the end, when I was more aggressive and mixing it up, it was a bit more of a struggle for her, and that really helped me out.”

Baptiste will now play fellow American and No 3 seed Coco Gauff in the 2nd-round on Wednesday night.

“I’ve grown up with [Gauff], we played doubles once in juniors, but never played against each other,” Baptiste said. “I’m really excited to play and see how that turns out.”


Madison Keys is Jennifer Brady's doubles partner and the two will play on Wednesday for a place in the singles quarter-finals

WTAtennis.com

Meanwhile, Madison Keys, the 7th-seeded American, also got off to a strong start, defeating Qinwen Zheng from China, 7-5 6-1, to set the stage for a highly anticipated Round of 16 clash with Brady, who, notably, won their sole previous encounter in Beijing in 2019.

In 2013, an 18-year-old Keys won her opening match in her tournament debut, but she lost her next 3 outings in Washington before rediscovered her winning ways in DC against 24th-ranked Zheng, prevailing in 1 hour and 28 minutes, and ending the 20-year-old Chinese’s 5-match winning streak, following her first career WTA singles title on the clay courts of Palermo two weeks ago.

Keys saved 3 break points at 4-4 in the first set to stay in front of Zheng, and the American eventually converted her first set point at 6-5 by forcing an error with a penetrating backhand.

Two of Zheng’s 10 double faults ceded a 2-0 lead to Keys in the second set, and the 7th seed rolled to victory from there, each striking 10 winners in the match, but Zheng made 17 more unforced errors than Keys.

Following her win, Keys, the World No 16, expressed her joy at Brady’s come-back, her excitement over playing her next, and about teaming up with the 28-year-old for doubles at the Citi Open.

“It’s amazing to have Jenny back,” Keys said in her post-match interview. “I think she’s one of the most popular people on tour because she’s just amazing and funny, and just one of the nicest people.

“So to be able to have her back, I got to play doubles with her yesterday, which was great!”

Brady & Keys made a winning start to their doubles campaign, defeating Maria Sakkari & Petra Martic, 6-3 1-6 [10-2], on Monday.

Through to the quarter-finals, the American pair await the winner of the match between Japan’s Shuko Aoyama & Gabriela Dabrowski from Canada, the No 2 seeds, versus  Estonia’s Ingrid Neel & Erin Routliffe from New Zealand.

“Tomorrow we’re enemies, so that’ll be interesting, but then we go back to being doubles partners and friends again,” Keys added. “So, I’m really looking forward to tomorrow night.”


2021 US Open finalist Leylah Fernandez qualified and beat Bernarda Pera in straight sets in Washington

mubadalacitidcopen.com

Elsewhere, Romania’s Sorana Cirstea won a marathon second set tiebreak to take down Petra Martic of Croatia, 6-3 7-6(13).

Martic led 6-3 before Cirstea saved 3 straight set points, and the Croatian eventually failed on 7 occasions to close it out before the Romanian pushed ahead for good.

In an evening match, Canada’s Leylah Fernandez eliminated American Bernarda Pera, 6-3 7-5, in a clash between two left-handers.

The 2021 US Open runner-up converted 7 of 9 break points on her way to a 1-hour and 35-minute win in the pair’s first meeting.

Fernandez set up a 2nd-round contest against 4th-seeded Maria Sakkari, the Greek having won their only previous match 6-2 6-2 at the 2021 Grampians Trophy in Melbourne.



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