December 9, 2021

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Halep wins No. 21, Brady wins No. 1

Brady

Jennifer Brady and Simona Halep held up the winners' trophies this week on the WTA Tour.

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The first “return to tennis” tournament in Palermo last week was a way for the WTA Tour to get its feet wet. But this week was a full-blown dunking into the waters of pandemic tennis.

(We’re not just using that analogy because Simona Halep decided to do exactly that after her win in Prague. But if the sneaker fits …)

And the final results were that one long-established star added to her resumé, while another did what most young players would love to do: win her first career title, in her home country.

Simona Halep may not know yet if she will play the U.S. Open – she is set to decide Monday – but she came back to tennis in Prague after skipping Palermo over coronavirus concerns.

And after struggling to get her bearings at the beginning, she won the 21st title of her WTA Tour career with a 6-2, 7-5 victory over No. 3 seed Elise Mertens of Belgium Sunday.

Here’s what it looked like.

In Nicholasville, Kentucky, unseeded 25-year-old Jennifer Brady was the last player standing in a field that was initially so star-studded, even the first round featured a matchup between multiple Grand Slam champions.

But Brady, who played collegiately at UCLA, rolled through the weaker bottom half of the draw, beat Coco Gauff in the semis and took care of unseeded Jil Teichmann in the final, 6-3, 6-4.

Her previous best result was the final of the WTA 125K tournament at Indian Wells in 2019.

And she won her first official title without dropping a set.

Here’s what she had to say.

Relief and happiness

Halep said this was her first trip to Prague in 15 years – more than half her life ago.

And, like Serena Williams and Venus Williams in Nicholasville, it likely would never have happened, had the coronavirus not come along and left both tours scrambling just to try to salvage the season.

Halep’s history has always been to be especially cautious about viruses – in addition to opting out of Palermo, she also withdrew from the Olympics in Rio in 2016 because of concerns about the Zika virus.

By all accounts, the safety measures in Prague left the players reassured. And, so far, no positive tests were announced coming out of either event.

Brady on a pre-pandemic tear

The Jennifer Brady who arrived in Australia to begin the 2020 season was a much fitter version. And she posted some terrific results in Brisbane and in Dubai, even though she had to qualify for both.

After winning three matches in qualifying, her first main-draw Tour match of the season came against Maria Sharapova in Brisbane.

It was an eerie setting; the men had taken over Brisbane for the preliminary rounds of the ATP Cup. And while the main stadium was packed and the crowd was going wild, Brady found herself against one of the iconic players on the WTA Tour on a back court, literally in the shadow of the lit-up stadium.

She came back from losing the first set to win it in a third-set tiebreak. And she followed it with an upset over world No. 1 and home-country heroine Ashleigh Barty.

As empty as the stands were in Kentucky due to no fans, there weren’t that many more in Brisbane, because of the circumstances. It didn’t seem to faze her in either circumstance.

Brady might have had an even better start to the season had she not run into Halep – twice. The Romanian got her in the first round of the Australian Open. And she also beat her in the semifinals of Dubai after Brady had qualified and blazed her way through the main draw.

On this Sunday, though – in different parts of the world – they both came out winners.

On the doubles side, the winners were Lucie Hradecka and Kristyna Pliskova in Prague.

https://twitter.com/WTA/status/1294955209270075392

And Luisa Stefani and Hayley Carter in Kentucky.