NEW YORK – On Monday night at the U.S. Open, world No. 1 Novak Djokovic was given an early scare by an American wild card whose unimposing serve and unorthodox strokes put tennis history on the line.

Djokovic overcame an unsteady start to beat 20-year-old Jenson Brooksby 1-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2. His pursuit of the calendar-year Grand Slam served as motivation.

Novak Djokovic Survives Shaky Start Against American Upstart To ...


20-Time Grand Slam Champion

Djokovic had to call upon nearly all of his tremendous tools to defeat the 99th ranked Brooksby, who only turned pro in January, including his dogged defence, devastating service return, unusual stamina, and steely will. The 34-year-old added a couple piercing stare-downs at the youngster early in the match when victory was far from secured, just in case the teenager had forgotten that he was playing a 20-time Grand Slam champion on the verge of staking a claim as the best in men’s tennis history.

A player needs to win 28 consecutive matches in all four majors to claim a Grand Slam in a single calendar year. Djokovic has reached the U.S. Open quarterfinals and now has 25 career wins. He has won the Australian Open, the French Open, and Wimbledon. If he wins three more, he will become the first man to do it since Rod Laver in 1969.

With a victory, Djokovic will have won his 21st Grand Slam title. If he did that, he’d set a new men’s record and break a tie with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, all of whom are sitting this one out.

The crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium was on its feet cheering Brooksby’s retrieval skills (he is surprisingly fleet and agile for a 6-4 player), his wickedly angled passing shots, and his grit in breaking serve during a 19-minute marathon game before Djokovic finally managed to seize the momentum for good midway through the second set.

Since his countryman Reilly Opelka was eliminated earlier in the day, Brooksby was the lone American player still in the competition.

And EPN commentators Brad Gilbert and John McEnroe, winner of four U.S. Open singles titles, were so excited by Brooksby’s potential that they discussed ways to improve his serve live on television.

While watching on TV, Andy Roddick, the last American man to win a Grand Slam (the 2003 U.S. Open), texted an offer of assistance and shared his own praise for Brooksby’s tenacity and entertaining play on social media. A final message to his wife said, “Sorry @BrooklynDecker, but I think I love another.”

When Brooksby, then a teenager, upset Tomas Berdych in the first round of the 2019 U.S. Open, he caught the attention of college coaches and agencies. After giving serious thought to going pro, he enrolled at Baylor instead and ended up missing the entire 2020 season due to an injury.

In January, he made the decision to turn professional and immediately began a schedule that included both lower-level Challenger events and ATP tournaments for which he qualified or received a wild card. He shocked 15th-ranked Felix Auger-Aliassime in the Citi Open in Washington, DC to garner recognition in the ATP events after dominating the Challenger circuit.

On Monday night, Brooksby took a 3-0 lead over Djokovic thanks to a combination of his own brilliance and some sloppy play from the much more seasoned Serb.

Last Words

Djokovic consistently made the same mistake, underestimating Brooksby’s speed and attempting drop shots that were easily returned by the American. He also failed to account for Brooksby’s superior vision when it came to predicting his next move with the ball. Djokovic began making more errors than winners as he struggled to adapt to his recent string of defeats despite playing well.