It is rare to find anyone on Earth who can beat Novak Djokovic in an all-out match.
Perhaps one day, 20-year old Jenson Brooksby, an American, will be able to run a bit faster than he was when he was just 20. The youngster from Sacramento proved that anything was possible, for almost two hours under the lights of Arthur Ashe Stadium on Monday. Djokovic then showed who the boss in a 45 minute sprint to the finish.
Brooksby was determined to win the rare calendar Grand Slam. It wasn’t easy for Djokovic to overcome Brooksby’s unusual game break. Brooksby couldn’t keep going long, and Djokovic won 1-6,6-3,6-2, 6-2 victory. He will now face No. 6 seed Matteo Berrettini.
Djokovic stated that “we had some very, very lengthy rallies, long matches.” It took a toll on us both physically. But I was able to find the right serves. I was efficient when I had to and opened up the court. My third and fourth sets were excellent. I felt more dominant. It was a great finish. It was not a great start. It was a rough start. It was a great victory.
Djokovic has not had to work so hard in a Grand Slam match to win. The match failed to reach five sets and did not feature tiebreakers. Djokovic has lost only five sets as close to 6-1 in his career at the majors.
Brooksby was a complication Djokovic had with him. Brooksby just recently moved up to the 100th spot in the rankings, having reached the final in Newport in July, and the semifinals at Washington in August. Brooksby won some high-quality victories over No. 15 Felix Auger-Aliassime.
Brooksby earned a reputation for being a difficult opponent. His technique is not taught in youth clinics. However, Brooksby’s intelligence, feel, and hustle have put him at the forefront of the exciting American prospects who are just beginning to make inroads on the tour.
This, along with the increasing pressure on Djokovic to win 21 major titles, created an interesting situation at Ashe. Djokovic’s fan support during the tournament was tepid to the point that it became annoying.
Djokovic received the largest ovations when the night session started Monday against a player who was not well-known to the crowd. They quickly figured out what Brooksby was all about.
Brooksby flew around the court in a display that appeared to disorient Djokovic. He used his athleticism to return shots that would normally make errors, drawing Djokovic into rallies clearly flustered. Djokovic made 11 unforced errors in the second set to Brooksby’s 1 and gave the fans something very different from what they expected.
Brooksby stated, “I had a lot confidence in myself out there that he could beat me, I can defeat anybody.”
Brooksby’s second set win earned him more respect from the crowd, even though he lost it 6-3.
Brooksby did not back down when Djokovic invariably raised his game to start the second set. He hit his groundstrokes more quickly and accurately, while acknowledging that he would have to win long rallies.
Brooksby was actually broken after the match, and then fell behind 3-0. Brooksby battled back in a 20-minute epic game. Brooksby won 24 points, had six break opportunities, and fought back to win.
Brooksby paid a much higher price than Djokovic, who looked tired as he threw a backhand into his net on the final point. Brooksby revealed that he was still struggling with a hip problem that he had experienced in a previous match.
Brooksby stated, “It’s not an excuse or something, but it kinda went through the leg today a little bit.” Brooksby said, “I struggled more to push off. That’s all part of the sport. I did my best to be the best I can today and every day thereafter. I have no regrets about that. “I think that if it wasn’t for that, I could have maintained a higher level of play in the first set and the match-ending.”
Brooksby’s age makes it difficult for him to compete in Grand Slams. Brooksby had already played quite a bit of tennis by Monday’s start. He had lost two sets to Aslan Karatsev in the third round and was playing four sets against Taylor Fritz. The match lasted over four hours.
It was a lot to ask for someone who had only played two matches in his three Grand Slam appearances. It was not sustainable against Djokovic who quickly broke back at 3-2. Brooksby stared down Brooksby several seconds as he ran down a high quality drop shot and ripped an over-court winner to end the game.
Djokovic stated, “I wanted him to feel my presence at the court.” He was a better player for two sets and a half, so I wanted his energy to shift in my favor. He was the one with the momentum. He kept me on the backfoot. That was when I realized, “Okay, I got him.” It worked.
Brooksby was unable to sustain a legitimate push after that point. Brooksby’s serve, which isn’t yet strong, let me down in just a few key moments. This was all that Djokovic needed to get some separation in the third and fourth sets. Brooksby was at his earliest age and had no energy left by the end.
Djokovic still had high praises for his opponent, and told him how much the performance was during a lengthy exchange at the net.
“He’s twenty. Djokovic stated that he has plenty of time. He also displayed mental maturity on court, which I believe is a sign of his maturity. He stepped in and, considering the circumstances of his first Arthur Ashe Stadium match against me, I believe he managed to do a great job. He was determined and tried his best. I must congratulate him. I was impressed by his game and his behaviour.
“Yeah. I think we’re likely to see a lot more of him in future. He has the means. He has the means. He’s intelligent. He’s a smart guy who knows how to win points.”
Djokovic, for his part, hasn’t played his best tennis at the U.S. Open. He lost sets to Brooksby and Kei Nishikori, as well as Holger Rune. He may be working up to his peak in week two, but at 34, he doesn’t want too many matches such as Monday, where almost every point was a battle for three hours and more.
Berrettini is Djokovic’s opponent. He beat him in the quarterfinals at the French Open and in Wimbledon’s final. Both were very competitive matches. If the calendar Slam is his destiny, it’s only fitting that he will have to beat him once more this year.
Djokovic stated, “Look, if the player serves well, which is his greatest weapon, he’s tough.” He is a tough opponent on any surface. He has been a great opponent in close matches at Wimbledon and French Open. We will be playing each other in the third Grand Slam. We hope the outcome will be similar to the two previous Grand Slams.”