NEW YORK -- Everyone who saw Jennifer Brady was sure of her great tennis talent long before she was. At 8 years old she was sent to the Evert Tennis Academy, which was established in Florida by Chris Evert and Evert's family, and trained there through her teenage years. Still, Brady's self-assurance never matched her extraordinary skill level.
Spending two years at UCLA, where she helped the Bruins win the 2014 NCAA championship, filled in gaps that all those tennis lessons hadn't bridged. On her own for the first time and freed from a regimented routine, Brady had to learn how to steer her life, not just her career. She blossomed, carrying a deep sense of confidence with her when she left UCLA and turned pro in 2015.
"Ever since I was young I've always been told how good I am," she said. "I feel like over the past year or so I have really put in the hard work and kind of showed myself that I can play at this level and I have the potential to play at this level."
Brady, 22, has been compiling a batch of impressive results. She reached the fourth round of the Australian Open this year and Thursday needed only 56 minutes to reel off a 6-1, 6-1 upset of No. 23 seeded Barbora Strycova in a second-round match at the U.S. Open, her second career victory over a top-50 player. She was relentless and fearless and sure, a formidable combination.
"She used all weapons to not let me in the match," Strycova said. "She has a great serve and she has a great forehand which she's dictating the points all the time, and then she's pushing you back."
She might not have flourished at this level without her experiences at UCLA.
"She came in very young and I think she left here having gained a lot of maturity and confidence in herself," Bruins tennis coach Stella Sampras Webster said in a phone interview. "I think that's what she needed, to grow up a little bit. ... She had to speak up for herself. She had to take care of herself, take care of her schoolwork, take care of just surviving in L.A."
Detouring to college before joining the pro ranks is not a common tennis path. Brady has no doubts that it was the right route.
"Those two years were pretty crucial for me," said Brady, who was born in Pennsylvania and now trains in Florida. "If I were to do the whole process again, I would stick to what I did and go back to UCLA. I learned a lot off-court, just learning how to be on my own. I was at an academy for basically my whole life when I played tennis, so I had the same schedule every single day. Nothing outside of that changed. So it was good to have a change. I learned a lot from that off-court and on-court."
Sampras Webster remembers Brady as committed to improving her game and unconcerned about where she played in the Bruins lineup.