Central Pennsylvania native enjoying her new habit of making Grand Slam tennis semifinals

STEVE HEISER
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United States' Jennifer Brady celebrates after defeating compatriot Jessica Pegula in their quarterfinal match at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021.(AP Photo/Hamish Blair)

As habits go, this is one that Jennifer Brady hopes will continue.

The central Pennsylvania native has advanced to a Grand Slam tennis semifinal for the second time in five months.

Wednesday, Brady advanced to the Australian Open women’s singles semifinals with a 4-6, 6-2, 6-1 victory over Jessica Pegula in an all-American matchup in the quarterfinals between friends and past doubles partners.

Last September, the 25-year-old Brady also advanced to the U.S. Open semifinals before falling to eventual champion Naomi Osaka.

 “I hope I make it a habit,” Brady said. “Hopefully I have a new habit of making finals.”

The 22nd-seeded Brady struggled at times and gave her racket an angry toss midway through the second set. But the unseeded Pegula, who advanced beyond the third round at a major for the first time, appeared to tire down the stretch.

“We’re such good friends,” Brady said. “I'm really happy for her success. I know we’ll be having a lot more tough battles.”

Brady was one of 72 Australian Open entrants forced into a two-week hard quarantine — no leaving the hotel room at all, for any reason — because they potentially were exposed to COVID-19 on chartered flights bringing them to the country in January.

And Brady is the only one who made it all the way to the singles semifinals at Melbourne Park.

She thinks the unusual experience might even have helped her perform as well as she did along the way to a matchup in the final four on Thursday night against Karolina Muchova of the Czech Republic.

“Mentally, I was feeling a little bit fried, to be honest. I think I used that two weeks to kind of reset mentally and also physically — just give myself, my mind, my body, a little bit of a rest," said Brady, who played college tennis at UCLA.

Either Brady or the 25th-seeded Muchova will reach her first Grand Slam final.

Muchova earned her semifinal berth by rallying past top-ranked Ash Barty, 1-6, 6-3, 6-2.

The other women’s semifinal at Melbourne Park is 23-time major champion Serena Williams against three-time Slam title winner Osaka.

“I would say I didn’t really have high expectations on myself to do well,” Brady said. “I came out of the quarantine, and then we were lucky enough to have a separate tournament for us who were in the hard lockdown. I was lucky to get a couple matches in there before starting here in the Australian Open.”

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.

The women's semifinals Thursday will be the first matches at Melbourne Park with crowds in nearly a week after the easing of restrictions imposed by the Victoria state government during a five-day lockdown in Australia's second-largest city to contain the spread of a COVID-19 cluster.

Tournament director Craig Tiley said Wednesday that attendance will be capped at 7,477 — about half the capacity of Rod Laver Arena — for each of the last four days of the tournament.

Nadal blows two-set lead: No. 2-ranked Rafael Nadal built a big lead in a night-time men’s quarterfinal, but his bid for a men’s-record 21st Grand Slam title ended with an upset five-set loss to Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece, 3-6, 2-6, 7-6 (4), 6-4, 7-5.

It is only the second time in Nadal’s career he has lost a Grand Slam match after taking the opening two.

Now the 22-year-old, fifth-seeded Tsitsipas will try to reach his first major final by beating Daniil Medvedev on Friday.

Medvedev beat Andrey Rublev, his friend and teammate on Russia's ATP Cup-winning squad, by a 7-5, 6-3, 6-2 score and will take a 19-match winning streak into the semifinals.

Medvedev is into the semifinals of a major for the third time and is one of two Russians into the semifinals at Melbourne Park. He joins 114th-ranked Aslan Karatsev, a qualifier in the main draw of a major for the first time, who plays top-ranked Novak Djokovic for a spot in the final.

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