Emerging tennis star from central Pa. advances to Australian Open women's quarterfinals

STEVE HEISER
717-505-5446/@ydsports
United States' Jennifer Brady celebrates after defeating Croatia's Donna Vekic in their fourth round match at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Monday, Feb. 15, 2021.(AP Photo/Andy Brownbill)

An emerging tennis star from central Pennsylvania is just three wins away from her first Grand Slam championship.

Jennifer Brady advanced to the Australian Open women’s singles quarterfinals on Monday. The 22nd-seed, who played college tennis at UCLA, earned a 6-1, 7-5 victory over No. 28 Donna Vekic of Croatia at Rod Laver Arena.

It’s the second time in five months that the 25-year-old Brady has made a major run at a Grand Slam event. She made the U.S. Open semifinals in September in her best-ever major performance before losing to eventual champion Naomi Osaka.

Next up for Brady in the Australian quarterfinals is her good pal, Jessica Pegula, who earned her first trip to a Grand Slam quarterfinal. After her win, Pegula scribbled on the screen of a courtside TV camera: “hi mom, hi dad, see you next rd Jen B.”

Pegula is the daughter of the owners of Buffalo’s NFL and NHL franchises.

After Brady won, setting up an all-American matchup against Pegula with a berth in the final four at stake, she used a blue marker to respond in kind, writing: “Bring it Jess!”

“It’s an opportunity for both of us,” Pegula said, recalling that she and Brady became close after playing doubles together for the United States in the team competition now known as the Billie Jean King Cup. “I’m just happy I’m here; she’s been playing some good tennis, solidifying herself as a top player.”

The 61st-ranked Pegula beat No. 5 seed Elina Svitolina of Ukraine 6-4, 3-6, 6-3.

“I’m super excited for her making her first Grand Slam quarterfinal. I know the emotions that she’s feeling. You feel like you’re on cloud nine, definitely,” Brady said. “We both know each other so well and I’m really looking forward to it. It will be a lot of fun. I think everyone back home in America will be watching, definitely.”

United States' Jennifer Brady hits a forehand return to Croatia's Donna Vekic during their fourth round match at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Monday, Feb. 15, 2021.(AP Photo/Andy Brownbill)

Enduring, and overcoming, a lockdown: Brady was one of the 72 players who had to go through a hard lockdown – two weeks stuck in a hotel room, not allowed to leave for any reason – after flying to Australia in January because someone on their flight tested positive for COVID-19 upon arrival.

“A lot of people were complaining, and I told myself I wasn’t going to complain,” Brady said. “I mean, there’s way worse things going on in the world than me being stuck in a hotel room for 14 days.”

Brady and Pegula gave the U.S. three women’s quarterfinalists at Melbourne Park, joining 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams, who advanced a day earlier.

Top-ranked Ash Barty ensured a fourth American didn’t make it to the last eight, beating unseeded Shelby Rogers 6-3, 6-4 to set up a quarterfinal match against No. 25 Karolina Muchova.

“I mean, it’s pretty awesome to see. I hope we can all push through,” Pegula said. “The last, I don’t know, year or so, we’ve really all pushed each other. Maybe we haven’t said it to each other, but I think we all can feel it.”

Brady’s local roots: Brady is now based in Florida, but grew up in the Cumberland Valley School District until she was about 9, when her family moved south, where she attended Chris Evert's tennis academy.

Her family ties in the central Pennsylvania region still run deep. Her father, Pat, graduated from Delone Catholic High School in McSherrystown, Adams County, where he was a standout football player and later an NCAA Division II All-America linebacker at East Stroudsburg University.

Four of her cousins (Nick Brady, Jason Brady, Evan Brady and Austin Brady) were also standout athletes at Delone.

Jennifer Brady still has relatives in the Hanover-Adams area.

Men’s action: There will be a one-nation men’s quarterfinal, too, between Russians Daniil Medvedev and Andrey Rublev. Medvedev, the 2019 U.S. Open runner-up, eliminated 192nd-ranked American Mackenzie McDonald 6-4, 6-2, 6-3 in 1 1/2 hours, while Rublev moved on when No. 22 Casper Ruud stopped because of an injury after dropping the first two sets.

A third Russian man, 114th-ranked qualifier Aslan Karatsev, already had advanced, giving the country a trio of quarterfinalists at a major tournament for the only time in the professional era.

Also on that half of the draw, Rafael Nadal moved closer to a men’s-record 21st Grand Slam trophy by overwhelming No. 16 Fabio Fognini 6-3, 6-4, 6-2. Nadal’s next opponent will be No. 5 Stefanos Tsitsipas, whose fourth-round match was canceled when No. 9 Matteo Berrettini withdrew because of an abdominal injury.

Reach Steve Heiser at sheiser@yorkdispatch.com. The Associated Press contributed to this story.