You can call Jenson Brooksby “JB,” “the Sacramento Kid,” or just maybe “le saveur du jour of American men’s tennis.” Anyway you cut it, the blond 20-year-old is a gritty battler and a gifted prospect with a huge upside.
Commentator Noah Eagle said, “He moves like a gazelle.” He defends with flair; he has feel; his ball-striking is clean and imaginative; his stab winners dazzle; he engages the crowd, and, most of all, the kid is one focused fighter. “He plays kind of like Andy Murray style,” said Brad Gilbert. “He defends unbelievably, and he’s unbelievably fast for 6’4”.
Having overcome a 14-month struggle with a toe injury, the Hall of Fame Open final was just his ninth ATP main draw match. In June, the product of Joseph Gilbert’s celebrated academy at California’s Arden Hills Resort, fought his way through the French Open qualifying. He’s 32-6 this year, and he’s won three lower-level tourneys (in South Africa, Orlando and Tallahassee) on both hard and clay courts.
The Hall of Fame Open is on grass, and this week the Northern Californian, who sent the former No. 4 Tomas Berdych into retirement at the 2019 US Open, showed off why he likes the low bounces of grass-court play.
In Newport, Jenson sported a green cap to honor his beloved Baylor Bears, and confidently marched through his draw. He ignored squawking seagulls and descending fog to reach the final. He overcame the considerable grass-courter Denis Kudla, the German veteran Peter Gojowczyk and the feisty Aussie, Jordan Thompson, who’s ranked 43. His play on Saturday got Tennis Channel gushing: “The kid can do no wrong…He doesn’t miss.”
But his big-hitting 6’ 8” Sunday foe, Kevin Anderson, is a fearsome, battle-tested, 35-year-old vet, who is bouncing back from knee surgery. The former Wimbledon and US Open finalist, who famously beat John Isner 26-24 in the fifth set at Wimbledon, has a huge serve and power groundies that he used in back-to-back marathon wins over Jack Sock and defending champ Alexander Bublik.
Jenson did have his chances. “Come on Brooksby, you’ve got this thing!” yelled a courtside fan. But, despite a handful of brilliant flash winners, able returns, inspired athleticism, fine movement and, most of all, a gritty fighting spirit, he couldn’t break his giant foe, the South African who has long resided in Florida.
Despite some well-earned confidence, Brooksby just didn’t come that close on his early break point opportunities in two different first-set games. And, in a tight tiebreak, he failed to convert two set points.
Seamlessly, Anderson dipped into his deep well of experience. He blasted 16 aces, was never broken, and, at crunch time, he stepped it up. His strokes gained length and power. He ran Jenson to the corners and broke him late to win the tiebreak 10-8. Then, after Kevin took a too-long comfort break, he promptly broke his 20-year-old foe early in the second set and went on to win the Hall of Fame Open 7-6(8), 6-4 to gain his seventh career title and his first crown on grass. Still, the tourney brought to prominence yet another American prospect who raises hope.
This week the broad-chested Brooksby, who has a sheepish smile, did not become the first Northern Californian man to win a top-tier men’s tourney since the days of Brad Gilbert. He’s not, at least for now, quite the sizzling prospect that 21-year-old Seb Korda is. Still, his ranking will rise to No. 126, and, more importantly, his future excites. Hall of Fame chief Todd Martin noted Jenson’s great record this year and told him, “You have demonstrated that winning matches helps to win matches…You have the head and heart of a champion, with a game to match. You have a lot of good stuff to come. You won the fans over this week and you are going to win many more fans in the future.”
American tennis certainly hopes so.