Generally speaking, there are three kinds of college tennis players:

—The kind that reaches their highest athletic goal by making a varsity team.

—The kind that lands in college tennis as a back-up plan.

—The kind that uses college as a path to the pro tour.

Jennifer Brady is the latter example, the rarest of the three.

The 21-year-old has made a name for herself this month after an unlikely fourth-round run at the Australian Open, which ended at the hands of veteran Mirjana Lucic-Baroni on Monday. Brady spent two seasons playing for UCLA before putting all of her confidence in a pro career.

“Her plan was to go pro after one or two years,” UCLA women’s assistant coach Rance Brown told “She was ready. She would have gotten bored and stagnant staying here with the amount of talent she has and the type of game.”

Brady possesses a combination for success not unlike fellow American and Australian Open quarterfinalist CoCo Vandeweghe: huge strokes and a laid-back temperament. They each played a large part in getting through the qualifying draw and through three more rounds of main-draw play, which included a 2-6, 7-6 (3), 10-8 marathon win over Heather Watson in which she saved five match points.

While Brady may seem like she came out of nowhere, the Floridian has had a professional plan in place for years. She grew up training at the Evert Academy in Boca Raton, FL, where USTA Player Development took notice and influenced her decision to compete for UCLA, while also trying her luck on the ITF Pro Circuit. (She has since relocated to the USTA National Campus in Lake Nona.)


“Brady had individual goals to become a successful professional player, but she also really enjoyed the team aspect and contributed on a large scale to the team dynamic,” Brady’s former UCLA teammate Courtney Dolehide says. “She’s goofy and always brought a ton of positive energy to practices and matches.”

During her freshman year in 2014, Brady played No. 2 singles and helped lead the Bruins to their second NCAA championship title in program history.


That summer, Brady won her first ITF Pro Circuit $25,000 tournament and took the fall semester off from school, reaching the final of a $50,000 tournament and coming within one win from securing the USTA Australian Open Wildcard Challenge. But instead of heading to Melbourne for her main draw debut, Brady returned to school for what would be her last semester.

“It was always clear to me that Brady was going to do a lot on the tour after college,” Dolehide says. “She truly loves the game of tennis. She enjoys practice and enjoys the hard work.”

After turning pro in the summer of 2015, Brady fell short in four Grand Slam qualifying draws before this past fortnight. She won all three of her qualifying matches Down Under in three sets, and after the marathon win over Watson, upset 14th seed Elena Vesnina to reach the second week.


“It feels amazing. I mean, coming here, being in the qualifying, I didn't expect to make it all the way until second week,” Brady said on Saturday. “I mean, I wrote it down and told myself, I said it, but I didn't say it confidently.”

It’s still considered unusual to see major success on the pro tour after a stint in college, but Brady is an unusual case.

“She has a modern game, an athletic game,” Brown says. “I think the women’s game is kind of a few years behind the men where they incorporate spin and really swing out. Brady’s game really fits into that.

“For a tall, athletic girl, her mobility is excellent. She’s fearless. And she doesn’t take herself too seriously. One of the girls told me she was once sitting in her room watching a TV show and ordering in Nobu.”

UCLA has all of the tools and state-of-the-art facilities that any athlete needs to prosper if they have the correct mindset and support team. Instead of getting sucked into the off-court distractions that college life has to offer, or turning on cruise control while on the court court, she put in the extra hours, focusing on the big picture.

“Like in basketball, a player can be a gym rat, she was 100 percent a gym rat,” Brown says. “And four days a week Brady was on the court at 7:30 a.m. waiting for me.”

Brady was also lucky to have her friends from her junior career to push her, like world No. 240 Robin Anderson, Chanel Nguyen and Kyle McPhillips.


“She was fortunate that every day at practice they could challenge each other, so it was very unusual coaches dream,” Brown says. “They had each other.”

Brady used her teammates and her time at college wisely, and the hard work is paying off.

“I’m so happy for this kid. She made some decisions. She made a commitment towards her tennis,” Brown said. “As much as you learn how to handle failure, she’s going to have to learn how to handle success. That’s just part of the process.”