It was the best week of her professional life. And now we’ll find out if Madison Brengle’s fun run in the Australian Open was a fleeting moment of glory or the start of something big.
Brengle, a native of Dover, made it to the round of 16 in the Australian Open, one of tennis’ Grand Slam events. It was the best she’s ever done in a major tournament – in fact, it’s the best anybody from Delaware has ever done in a major tournament. Brengle’s magic ride ended on Monday when she lost to Madison Keys 6-2, 6-4, and even though it had to be disappointing to come that close to the quarterfinals and fall short, Brengel has to feel good about what she accomplished and how she accomplished it.
Brengel is what, in another sport, you would call a journeyman. She’s obviously good, but for most of her career as a professional she’s been a marginal player who might win a match or two on the WTA circuit, but hardly ever more than that. She has never been a star player who wins big purses or gets rich endorsement deals or sponsorships. Put it this way – Madison Brengle doesn’t show up for her matches in a limousine.
Over her career, Brengel has won more matches than she’s lost, but not by a large margin (319 victories and 232 defeats). And she’s earned more than half a million dollars, which is something most 24-year-olds can’t say. But she also has expenses that most 24-year-olds don’t have, including travel expenses to all of her tournament sites. It’s not like her parents can drive her to Australia and then pick her up when her match is done.
What Brengle had been missing is a big-time showing in a big-time event and she finally did it after a long, long drought. Before the Australian Open, Brengle has lost in the qualifying tournament of 24 straight Grand Slam events – that’s six straight years of frustration in major tournaments.
But now, with her strong showing in the first Grand Slam event of the year, Brengle will move into the Top 50 for the first time in her career – her previous best was 64th last year. She also walked away with what was by far the biggest paycheck of her career, $175,000. And this all came on the heels of another impressive showing – just before the Australian Open, Brengle advanced all the way to the final of an ATP tournament in Hobart, Australia, winning seven matches before falling to Heather Watson of Great Britain 6-3, 6-4.
And that’s why you have to wonder whether the light bulb has gone off over her head and Madison Brengle finally knows how to play winning tennis at the most competitive level in the world. She’s the first to admit that she didn’t always work as hard as she should or take tennis as seriously as she should, but now she’s tasted success and it tastes pretty good. Brengle told reporters in Australia that she didn’t have much confidence in her game the last few years and she went into matches expecting to lose. But that has changed now. Success begets success and now Brengle has proven to everybody – including herself – that she can play with the big girls.
Now she has to prove that she can do it again and again and again. That doesn’t mean she’ll be whipping Serena Williams anytime soon, but at least Brengle showed that she can come close to the top, and she showed it in a Grand Slam event, albeit the least sexy of the four majors. People around here probably would have been more excited if she had made it to the round of 16 at Wimbledon or the U.S. Open or even the French Open.
But a major is a major and this past month Madison Brengle took a major step forward in her career. Now we’ll wait and see where the next step takes her.