“She just hadn’t figured out yet what to do with them,” Sampras-Webster said. “She made errors because of her poor selection.”
At U.C.L.A., Brady took every opportunity to hit with teammates or anyone else at her level. One of the major disadvantages of college tennis is that the N.C.A.A. limits how much time coaches can spend with players. So anyone with hopes for a pro career has to have the discipline to train outside of organized team activities.
Sampras-Webster said she would often see Brady hitting with members of the men’s team or even male club players, or alone on the courts serving a bucket of balls. After two seasons that included an N.C.A.A. team championship, Brady decided she was ready to give pro tennis a shot.
Martin Blackman, the director of player development for the United States Tennis Association, said Brady showed the opportunity to get to the top ranks of the pros through the college ranks was increasingly hard to dismiss.
“So much of that is dependent on the program, the coach, and the commitment of the player,” Blackman said. “If those are in place, you can kind of duplicate a part of the pathway in college as opposed to grinding it out on tour.”
Of course, as long as there are teen stars, like the 16-year-old Coco Gauff, succeeding on the court and reaping the financial rewards, turning professional will always be a first choice. Gauff and two other girls born in 2004, Robin Montgomery and Katrina Scott, are living proof that a college scholarship will remain Plan B, even though only Scott won a match at the U.S. Open this year.
It is, though, a safer and far less costly choice, since being a top player requires paying for a coach and physiotherapist and others, and having a parent, if you are a teenager, to travel. In most cases, there are only three primary sources to finance that — family, sponsors and prize money. Anyone who does not win will not have a sponsor for very long, and having an education to fall back on is never a bad thing.