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        'I belong at this level': Brady sees the silver lining

        • Dan Imhoff

        Jennifer Brady did not talk in ifs, buts or could-have-beens in the wash-up of her first major final.

        The silver salver may not be the trophy the 24th seed had in mind when she pictured herself departing Melbourne Park on Saturday night after defeat to Naomi Osaka in the Australian Open decider.

        MORE: Awesome Osaka races to second AO crown

        For a player ranked outside the world’s top 50 this time last year to a woman who emerged from hard lockdown to come within one victory of a maiden major, there was plenty of which to be proud.

        There were no excuses from this self-effacing Pennsylvanian.

        The praise was immediately forthcoming for her opponent, the Japanese third seed, who had just won her fourth Grand Slam trophy 6-4 6-3.

        “First I would like to congratulate Naomi on another Grand Slam title. She’s such an inspiration to us all and what she’s doing for the game is amazing in getting the sport out there,” Brady said. “I hope young girls at home are watching and inspired by what she’s doing.”

        MORE: Analysis: How Osaka denied Brady in the decider

        Those same young girls had every reason to draw their inspiration from the beaten finalist.

        At 25, she was proof that the route less travelled could still deliver success.

        After nearly two years as a college player for the University of California, Brady slowly but surely found her way.

        "I think winning a Grand Slam is totally achievable. It's within reach."
        Jennifer Brady

        Her Grand Slam debut came as a 21-year-old, when she became the first American woman qualifier to reach the fourth round at the Australian Open in the Open era.

        It was not until she moved to Germany to work with Michael Geserer that she truly began to realise her potential.

        It proved a masterstroke and after her run to the US Open semifinals last year upon the tour’s resumption, Osaka had good reason not to underestimate her lower-ranked opponent on Rod Laver Arena on Saturday night.

        Jennifer Brady looks on as the AO2021 runner-up

        In an empty Arthur Ashe Stadium last September, the pair played out one of the matches of the tournament.

        After two hours and eight minutes on that New York night, Osaka prevailed. She would go on to claim her third major days later.

        It was a match that left its mark though, as Osaka pointed to it being one of the two matches she remembered in her career most.

        While having fallen to Osaka in two of her past three majors, Brady saw plenty of upside to both runs.

        “This week or these couple weeks coming in here and making the finals here, after making the semis at the US Open, I think just proves to myself that it's totally achievable week in, week out,” Brady said. “There may be great weeks, there may be bad weeks, but I think that if I approach every single one the same, there are going to be a lot more good weeks than bad weeks.”

        Brady leaves Melbourne Park having won 22 of her past 29 matches on tour, 18 of these coming in straight sets, and is now guaranteed to make her top 20 debut on Monday when she climbs to No.13.

        F_Brady_Day 13_20022021_04
        Brady stretches for a backhand during the final

        “I think I belong at this level,” Brady said. “I think winning a Grand Slam is totally achievable. It's within reach. You know, playing out there, obviously I was nervous, didn't go my way, but at the same time coming off court, I was, like, ‘OK, that feels a little bit normal’.”

        Brady does not talk in ifs, buts, or maybes, only when.

        “I'm not planning for it to happen at Wimbledon, 2021. Yeah, it will happen when it happens,” she said. “When it happens, I'll be thrilled. When I'm put in that position or given myself that opportunity, I think I'll be ready for it.”

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