Shelby Rogers and Jennifer Brady are hardly new faces on the American women’s tennis scene.
But with so many of the top women missing at this year’s US Open, there have been clear opportunities.
The 27-year-old from Charleston, South Carolina and the 25-year-old from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania have taken full advantage.
Brady saw off 2016 champion Angelique Kerber, seeded No. 17, in straight sets on Sunday. Limited a little bit by a leg injury that required an off-court medical timeout, she still had far too much for the former No. 1.
She is the first U.S. college player to make the US Open quarterfinals since Clemson’s Gigi Fernandez in 1994. Brady spent two seasons at UCLA, and even though she’s 25 is much more of a “youngster” in terms of WTA Tour experience.
“If you were to tell me that when I left, if I were to go to college in 2013 at UCLA and seven years from then I would be in the quarterfinals of the US Open, I would probably laugh,” She said. “I would be shocked, because I just — I wasn’t ready when I went to college. And I wasn’t ready to play on the big stage. I definitely wasn’t ready to perform or compete with any of these other players.”
Career investment pays off for Brady
Brady took the next step last off-season. She left her comfort zone, made the investment that too many WTA players don’t make in a quality team, and spent much of the off-season in Germany with coach Michael Geserer and physiotherapist Daniel Pohl.
She arrived in Australia transformed physically. Not that she was out of shape before; but she’s a lean fighting machine now. That fitness has been a key to moving to the next level – to know that she can stay the course no matter how long it takes, and stay with the game plan knowing she need not take shortcuts and try to finish points off too early, because of fitness.
Her effort against a very game Maria Sharapova in Brisbane to open the season was an eye-opener.
The pandemic rudely interrupted her progress.
But even if she loses on Tuesday, Brady should be top 30 and – even with a projected full field at the French Open in a few weeks, should again be seeded.
Two years of comeback for Rogers
As for Rogers, who has come back from a major knee injury and was outside the top 800, it’s a validation of a lot of sweat and hard work.
Six months post her knee surgery, she didn’t even know if she would play again. Two years out, she said she feels as healthy as she ever has.
The American had beaten Kvitova once before – a somewhat uneven match at the French Open in which she bageled the Czech in the first and third sets, and lost a tiebreak in the second set.
Kvitova was under the weather that day, and the slower court probably gave Rogers a better chance than a quicker hard court, in the clash of game styles.
But the courts at the US Open seemed apt for Kvitova. And the weather, which can often affect her, was fairly benign by Flushing Meadows standards. Still, Rogers prevailed in what she called a “roller coaster” of a match. It was an impressive effort. She came back from a break down in the third set.
“It’s nice to be back there. I told myself coming back after injury and quarantine, You can get back to where you’ve been before, you’ve done it, and go even farther,” Rogers said.
And, just like the year in Paris when she previously defeated Kvitova, she’s into a Grand Slam quarterfinal.
Four Americans in the quarters?
The two are both in the top half of the draw, but they won’t face each other in Tuesday’s quarterfinals.
Rogers will play 2018 champion Naomi Osaka, while Brady has a more favorable assignment in No. 23 seed Yulia Putintseva of Kazakhstan.
On Monday, No. 3 seed Serena Williams and No. 2 seed Sofia Kenin will play – again, not against each other, to join the two upstarts.
Williams, who looked in vintage fighting form in the second half of her three-set win over Sloane Stephens, gets a rematch with No. 15 Maria Sakkari of Greece.
The two played just last week in the “Cincy” event. It was not a supreme performance from Williams, who should have closed it out in the second, didn’t, and then did her best imitation of someone who wasn’t trying as she went down 6-1 in the third set.
Sakkari may see a very different Serena today, as she is a few matches away from that coveted 24th Grand Slam title.
Kenin plays No. 16 seed Elise Mertens of Belgium, who has been buzzing around the top guns during the entire bubble experience and might be ready for a big result.
Nevertheless, the delicious possibility is very much alive that there could be an American woman in each of the four quarterfinals.
In a year when so many of the top-10 women are absent, that the Americans would seize that opportunity to make their mark at their home Grand Slam is a great story.