Tennis Prose



Jenson Brooksby Is Rocky Balboa

It was expected Jenson Brooksby was going to roll over and die for Novak Djokovic, the monumental moment of his first match on Arthur Ashe stadium in the fourth round and the intimidating spectre of facing the greatest tennis champion in history would be too much for the 20 year old from Sacramento to deal with.

But a funny thing happened. The kid didn’t follow the script. Instead, Brooksby played world no. 1 level tennis and was beating the hell out of Djokovic to the tune of 6-1 in the first set.

As I expected, Djokovic didn’t take Brooksby very seriously and the homework he did on the rising force was insufficient. You have to study this kid and watch his matches in entirety to get an understanding of just how good and how mentally tough he is.

I first became aware of Brooksby at the 2019 Sarasota Challenger, where as a wildcard he would lose in the first round to Peter Polansky 62 36 76 (86). He was just 18. I sat for while next to his coach Joe Gilbert and we talked about their journey, he started working with Brooksby at age 7 and they’ve been a team ever since. He had difficulty finding quality hitting in Sacramento. He was going to Baylor. Brooksby never played Korda but he had a rivalry with Nakashima in junior, Nakashima won most of the matches.

Then in Newport this year I saw Brooksby beat the fine grass player Denis Kudla, who gave Djokovic loads of trouble at Wimbledon this past summer. Brooksby was not supposed to beat Kudla on grass but he did 63 46 75, en route to the finals where he finally lost to Anderson.

Then Brooksby avenged Anderson in Atlanta and this summer Brooksby beat Auger-Aliassime, Tiafoe, Thompson.

But the best effort I saw from Brooksby came at US Open. After winning a rugged war with Michael Ymer in the first round, Brooksby beat Taylor Fritz in a hard fought, rollercoaster, pressure packed thriller. Fritz absolutely played good enough to win in three sets, which I believe he expected, but Brooksby refused to go down and turned the tables on the more experienced and heralded American. Brooksby showed he’s a special fighter, who does not bow or defer to anyone on a tennis court. Fritz was so annoyed with his failure against Brooksby he snapped his Head over his knee.

Then the next round Brooksby beat AO semifinalist and Olympic silver medalist in mixed doubles Aslan Karatsev from two sets to one down. Another stunning display.

Djokovic surely watched some video highlights of Brooksby but short clips don’t tell the story. This kid is like Rocky Balboa, he keeps coming and fighting and pressure and big name players just don’t intimidate him at all. He has that special skill to PLAY THE BALL not the marquee name or the moment. Play the ball. Teen version of Lleyton Hewitt was a master at this.

Djokovic learned the hard way Brooksby is not your average ATP prospect and was down a set and fighting for survival in a vicious second set which he ultimately managed to survive and win. This match was the closest thing I’ve ever seen to the Apollo Creed vs Rocky Balboa first fight. Heavy favorite superstar champion finding himself in a life and death struggle vs a perceived longshot no hoper.

Djokovic was so threatened and unnerved by Brooksby he even had to stare him down several times, to try to intimidate him. It didn’t work. Djokovic also screamed at his box and expressed his most furious emotional adrenaline theatrics of fist pumps and roaring and finally the Serbian did take control of the match and won the final two sets to advance to the QF. Brooksby forced Djokovic to show his highest level of tennis.

But after the match at the handshake Djokovic showed total respect to Brooksby and appreciation for his superhuman efforts, determination and fighting he performed. Djokovic shook hands and looked him in the eye and even with a little awe, told Brooksby he’s “going to be a great, great player.” Djokovic also praised Brooksby’s intelligence and tactical cleverness to Brad Gilbert in the post match interview.

John McEnroe openly expressed how much he was enjoying the match – how rare is that?

All the stories and accounts will tell you Djokovic won the match vs. Brooksby and is now three away from 21 and the Grand Slam.

But last night Jenson Brooksby stole the show. His future and upside potential with a few more years of matches like this and more seasoning indicate the sky is the limit for Brooksby.

Former ATP world no. 4 Gene Mayer on Brooksby: “Brooksby plays awfully well…consistent, precise, very quick and unnerving to play against.  His serve is the only glaring hole in his game.”

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  • Scott · September 8, 2021 at 10:14 pm

    You’re spot on with your comments on Brooksby. He’s different, not your typical spoiled American junior or satisfied young American pro. This kid is a fighter and wants to be a champion. I see the movement of Murray, the fight of Connors and the disguise of Santoro. No doubt his serve is going to improve, and when it does, he’ll be in the Top 10 easy.

  • Scoop Malinowski · September 9, 2021 at 8:24 am

    Scott, he has what can’t be taught, he plays the ball not the occasion or the marquee world famous super champion named opponent. Mentally tough beyond belief. The kid expects to beat everyone, he really does. Top ten or top five. One question if though if his coach is the right coach at this stage of his career? Might need a more ATP accomplished coach to help out in his corner because Joseph Gilbert has no ATP actual experience. Andy Roddick sounds as though he wants to get involved in team Brooksby as he offered to fix his serve in four days. Brooksby should seriously consider to take Andy up on that offer and make that consultation connection.



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