By the end of June, many athletes will make the U.S. Olympic team who, had the Games been held in 2020, likely would have been left out. Count tennis player Jennifer Brady among the first to emerge.
At this time last year, Brady was sixth in Olympic qualifying standings in a race for four American women’s singles spots.
More than half of the tournaments had been played that would determine the Olympic field, which is drawn from the WTA rankings after the French Open in early June.
Brady wasn’t just sixth. She was a distant sixth, more than 1,000 points behind the last U.S. woman in, Madison Keys. For perspective, to earn 1,000 points at one Grand Slam tournament, a player must reach the final.
That’s what Brady did at the just-completed Australian Open, taking runner-up to Naomi Osaka (who was one of the highest-ranked players not to make the Rio Olympics). She became the first woman who played college tennis to make a Slam final since Kathy Jordan in 1983.
Also since tennis resumed last summer, Brady won her first WTA title and made the U.S. Open semifinals.
She rocketed to third place in U.S Olympic qualifying, behind Serena Williams, who keeps her 2019 Wimbledon runner-up points under the new pandemic-adjusted rankings system. And Sofia Kenin, who keeps her 2020 Australian Open champion points for another 11 months.
Williams and Kenin are all but locks to qualify for Tokyo in the spring, regardless of when the rankings system reverts to its traditional format and, potentially, 2020 French Open points drop off before the Olympic cutoff.
Brady is about 1,500 points ahead of the new player on the bubble, Alison Riske, and Keys. Both Riske and Keys appeared destined for Tokyo at this time last year, but are now fighting for the last spot unless both have an incredible spring to make up the sizeable gap to Brady.
Jessica Pegula, an Australian Open quarterfinalist, Coco Gauff, Shelby Rogers and Danielle Collins could also challenge, but need to significantly outperform their countrywomen over the next three and a half months.
After the four singles spots are filled, up to two more women can be added to the Olympic team for doubles only. The U.S.’ top doubles player, currently 11th-ranked Nicole Melichar, gets in automatically if she’s ranked in the world top 10 after the French Open.
Outside of the top-10 exception, any doubles pick(s) would be discretionary, leaving open the possibility that four-time gold medalist Venus Williams can be named to her sixth Olympic team to partner with Serena.
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Jennifer Brady looks like an Olympian, leaving one U.S. women’s spot in play originally appeared on NBCSports.com