03:50 AM GMT April 19, 2021
Jenson Brooksby is as fearless a competitor as they come. A self-described 'physical player' armed with a boisterous backhand and a dialed-in demeamor, the 20-year-old California native is making an instant splash on the ATP Challenger Tour.
Brooksby is putting the rest of the tour on notice after a near-perfect start to his 2021 campaign. The American's stunning run continued this week with a dominant performance in Orlando, Florida. He streaked to his second Challenger title without dropping a set, culminating in a 6-3, 6-3 victory over Denis Kudla.
If you aren't familiar with Brooksby, here's your introduction to the hottest player on the circuit. After missing 14 months with a toe injury, including all of 2020, the surging #NextGenATP star has been a relentless force in the opening months of 2021. His 14-2 record gives him the highest win percentage on the ATP Challenger Tour (87.5), among players with at least 15 matches played. And his two titles has him sitting tied for the tour lead with Sebastian Baez and Zizou Bergs.
2021 ATP Challenger Win Percentage Leaders (min. 15 matches)
After lifting his first Challenger trophy on the hard courts of Potchefstroom, South Africa, in February, Brooksby reached another final in Cleveland, USA, before earning his first career victory in ATP Tour qualifying. He would upset Henri Laaksonen at the ATP Masters 1000 event in Miami, before arriving in Orlando with plenty of confidence and momentum.
Brooksby, a native of Sacramento, California, is up to a career-high No. 194 in the FedEx ATP Rankings with his title on Sunday. Having opened the season outside the Top 300, and with just three match wins on the Challenger circuit, it's been a remarkable rise for the 20-year-old.
There's no stopping Jenson Brooksby!— ATP Challenger Tour (@ATPChallenger) April 18, 2021
The 20-year-old 🇺🇸 is the champion in Orlando, claiming his second #ATPChallenger title in dominant fashion. Did not drop a set all week. pic.twitter.com/D5dPzh7kNh
Brooksby's story is a fascinating one. A former U.S. junior champion, the American sent shockwaves throughout the tennis world with an upset of former World No. 4 Tomas Berdych at the 2019 US Open. At the age of 18 and with no experience on the professional stage, he would earn the biggest win of his young career.
Having enrolled to play collegiately at Baylor University later that year, the American's toe injury would derail his college tennis ambitions. He would not step on a match court for more than a year, before eventually opting to turn pro to open his 2021 campaign. Now, in just his fourth month as a professional, he already has one eye on the Next Gen ATP Finals, surging to sixth in the ATP Race To Milan.
Brooksby spoke to broadcaster Mike Cation following his victory in Orlando...
Congrats Jenson. The courts this week were very quick. How did you make it so your style was so effective, that you didn't even lose a set?
I knew coming into the week that it would be a little faster than the courts I usually train at, at home. But I got here a couple days early this time, just to get used to playing here. Nothing in my game really changed much. It's just all about getting used to the courts and the speed.
For people who are new to the Jenson Brooksby game, what is it that you do well and how does that translate when you're moving up to the higher level?
I think that I have an all-around game. I like hitting my backhand, but my forehand is getting there too. I just fight for every point and move my opponent around as much as possible. I don't want to give it all away. [laughs]
You don't have the biggest serve yet, but that will evolve in time. That said, in these faster conditions, how did you make sure that the first forehand and backhand was so effective and generated a lot of depth?
I've been working on that a lot in practise lately. Just being more physical in the first few shots of the point, because in the past I wasn't doing that. It's just about doing it in practise and getting the confidence to swing through those shots in the matches. It looks like it was working this week.
Your coach Nick said that you've been much more focused this week. Is that an issue for you, at times?
Yeah, against Christian Harrison yesterday I started out strong and it slipped a little as the first set went on. For me, it's all about staying focused on the strategy and being aggressive in the match. When I lose focus, I have to let out a little anger with a shout. Something like that. It just helps me get back in the zone to refocus.
Against another player with such a good backhand in Kudla, what were the patterns you looked for?
I knew going in that he's a very good player. But I was feeling confident and staying physical to the forehand. I tried to move him around and keep the ball low. He likes to attack as well, but I think I did a good job of stopping him today. He wasn't in rhythm and I think I caused that.
This year has been impressive. Two titles from three finals for you. How do you set realistic expectations so you're not rushing the process and instead trying to focus match-to-match and tournament-to-tournament?
The mindset I have and the mindset of my team is not looking at the ranking. We don't read into any of that stuff. It's just about taking it day-by-day and doing what's in my control to get better. The results will take care of themselves. I'm happy with the year so far and I'm happy to make such big progress, especially after a tough 2020 for me. I'm focusing on the right things consistently and I know I'll keep getting better.
That said, the next step is Roland Garros qualifying. I know you haven't played on clay much. What's that going to be like for you?
Luckily, I've had some experience with changes in conditions this year. I went from Spain to South Africa and played two days later. Then, I went from Cleveland indoors to slower conditions in Miami. I know I haven't played on clay in a while, but we'll drive to Tallahassee tonight and get a couple hits tomorrow. Even if I'm not playing my best, I'm not going to worry about that. I'll get used to the courts again.
How do you celebrate, especially when you have another tournament to focus on?
You have to celebrate. The big thing for me is to enjoy the process. Training is always going to be hard work, and then there's the matches and all the traveling, but I've enjoyed it a lot this year. It's finding the balance of putting in the hard work and enjoying what I do. Off-court things as well.
Maybe get a nice steak tonight?
Yeah, I'm sure we'll get a good dinner tonight. I've got a match in a couple days, but we'll enjoy it for sure.
I first became aware of you in Stockton in 2016, when you played qualies. You had some early Challenger wild cards as a junior, and those were opportunities that many kids don't get. What did that mean to you?
At the time, it was a great opportunity. And my game was there. I was competing with those guys. But obviously my focus wasn't near what it is now. The physical side too. I grew late. At 16 and 17 years old, it gave me the confidence to know that my game was there. It showed me that I just needed to keep training hard. I still haven't played a lot of Challenger matches in general, but it was a good experience to have that.