Jenson Brooksby was the last American man or woman standing at the U.S. Open — and the latest obstacle to Novak Djokovic’s pursuit of history.
The 6-foot-4 20-year-old from Sacramento and onetime Baylor Bear pushed Djokovic to the limit, shocking him in a quick first set, before the world No. 1 reestablished control en route to a 1-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2, victory in the fourth round in an electric Arthur Ashe Stadium. Djokovic won his 25th straight Grand Slam match in 2021, and improved to 11-0 against Americans in New York. Djokovic has won seven of those 25 matches this season after dropping the first set.
The Serb now stands three victories from becoming the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to win the calendar Grand Slam. On Wednesday in the quarterfinals, Djokovic will face Italian No. 6 seed Matteo Berrettini, whom Djokovic beat in the Wimbledon final for his record-tying 20th major title.
“Brooksby is a very young, very talented player,” Djokovic told Brad Gilbert on court. “I told him at the net that the future is ahead of him, definitely. He’s a great player.”
Brooksby entered the match ranked No. 99 in the world, with a 12-6 record in 2021, but was just 4-3 in majors. Yet by reaching the fourth round, he became the youngest American man to do so since Andy Roddick in 2002. His ranking is certain to jump dramatically after the Open.
With his variety of slices and drop shots from the baseline and tactical instincts, Brooksby shocked Djokovic by jumping out to a quick 3-0 lead and took the first set in half an hour. The crowd quickly adopted Brooksby as their own and cheered him raucously.
“He has top-10 talent written all over him,” ESPN’s John McEnroe said on air.
The Serb struggled with his forehand and sprayed errors all over the court in the first set. It was the third time in four matches that Djokovic has dropped the first set, so he was in familiar territory.
“It wasn’t a great start for me,” Djokovic said. “Jenson had a clear game plan, he was executing all the shots very efficiently. And I was really on my back foot. I didn’t have the rhythm and made a lot of errors. He was reading the play very well for about a set and a half.
“I think the momentum was changed probably mid-way through the second set…After that I started hitting more cleanly and through the court.”
After Djokovic rebounded to capture the second set, he left the court to change his clothes while Brooksby called for the trainer and ended up taking a tablet of some sort. Djokovic then appeared to ask for one, too.
The serve is the only thing that Brooksby does not do at an elite level. Roddick, known for his booming serves that helped lead to the 2003 U.S. Open title, texted ESPN’s Brad Gilbert during the match to say he could fix Brooksby’s serve in “four days.”
“He’s definitely going to be a Top 10 player, the big if is he can develop a serve,” Gilbert said on air.
Brooksby missed 14 months coming into 2021 due to arm and toe injuries and did not play a single college match at Baylor after enrolling. He opted to turn pro last December when he was ranked No. 307 in the world. Baylor ended up losing in the NCAA final without him.
Brooksby fought gamely as the match wore on, but Djokovic, as he inevitably does, took control.
When Djokovic finally won, the last American had been eliminated from the tournament. Earlier Monday, Shelby Rogers, who upset world No. 1 Ash Barty on Saturday, was routed by 18-year-old Brit Emma Raducanu, 6-2, 6-1. Later, 7-footer Reilly Opelka lost in four sets to South African Lloyd Harris, who will face No. 4 Alexander Zverev in the quarterfinals. The winner of that match will meet the Djokovic/Berrettini winner in the semis.
Those who have followed Brooksby believe he will eventually contend for majors.
“You know, we have I think 14 or 15 Americans in the top 100, so we’ve got a huge group of guys there,” Opelka said. “We just don’t have the world beaters. I don’t think we will have a [Pete] Sampras, [Andre] Agassi era of just dominance like that again. It’s rare for any country. Russia is kind of the closest thing to it now. But I think Brooksby is our best, Brooksby and [Sebastian] Korda are our best top candidates for maybe winning a slam of the young guys.”
Said Djokovic: “He’s only 20, he has a bright future ahead of him. America has a bright future in tennis, for sure.”
While Brooksby’s chance to contend for majors may not come for some time, Djokovic is inching closer to history.
He next faces Berrettini, a 2019 semifinalst at the Open against whom Djokovic is 3-0. This will be their first meeting on an outdoor hardcourt.
“Rematch from the Wimbledon finals a couple months ago,” Djokovic said. “It’s going to be exciting. He loves the big stage. He’s already established a top-5, top-10 player in the world. Big serve, just a big game overall.
“I’ve played hin quite a few times on different surfaces, I know what to expect. I’m going to try to prepare a good game plan and hope for the best.”