Hard quarantine didn't stop Brady in Australia; Osaka did

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Japan's Naomi Osaka, right, holds the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup after defeating United States Jennifer Brady, left, in the women's singles final at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Saturday, Feb. 20, 2021.(AP Photo/Mark Dadswell)

Jennifer Brady's Australian adventure began with 15 days of hard quarantine — stuck in her hotel room because she might have been exposed to COVID-19 while traveling to the country — and ended with her playing for the championship at Melbourne Park.

The 25-year-old American won't be leaving with the Australian Open title after losing to Naomi Osaka 6-4, 6-3 on Saturday. Brady does depart with a strong sense that she deserves a spot in her sport's upper echelon.

“I mean, I made my first Grand Slam final. So maybe if I wasn’t in quarantine, I would have won. Maybe,” she said with a smile. “Yeah, I don’t think it really hampered me much. Who knows? You know, you really don’t know.”

Brady, who is from Pennsylvania and played college tennis at UCLA, was one of 72 players who needed to go into hard lockdown for at least two weeks after they were on a chartered flight with someone who tested positive for the coronavirus upon arrival in Australia.

She couldn't leave her room for any reason at all, so there was a lot of FaceTiming with friends, ordering in food for delivery — and hitting tennis balls against a bed mattress.

Brady was the only singles player in that group who made it to Week 2 of the year's first Grand Slam tournament and thought perhaps the break from routine did her some good, allowing her to rest physically and mentally.

In the biggest match of her career, Brady was even at 4-all at the outset before some jittery mistakes led to a six-game run for Osaka that changed the complexion of things.

Still, Brady leaves with a self-belief she never used to have.