One year ago, Jenson Brooksby was unable to step on a tennis court. In fact, the California native was unable to do much of anything as he hobbled around his home with a boot strapped to his foot. A significant toe injury had kept Brooksby on the sidelines for months and prevented him from practising and training amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
A total of 14 months would pass before the American finally returned to a match court to open the 2021 season. And considering he just turned pro in January, it makes his current run one of the more remarkable stories in recent history on the ATP Challenger Tour.
At the age of 20, Brooksby is already entering historic territory. On Sunday, he triumphed on the clay courts of Tallahassee for his third title of 2021. His 19-2 record not only leads the Challenger circuit this year, but is the best start to a season since Kei Nishikori dominated the early stages of 2010.
“How easy is tennis for you right now?”
— ATP Challenger Tour (@ATPChallenger) April 25, 2021
To open a Challenger campaign with three titles from four finals is impressive, but to also do it to launch a professional career is stunning. Brooksby went back-to-back on hard and clay in Orlando and Tallahassee, culminating in a 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 win over Bjorn Fratangelo on Sunday at the Tallahassee Tennis Challenger. He is the first player to triumph on different surfaces in consecutive weeks since 2016, when Florian Mayer achieved the feat.
And to think that Brooksby would be playing college tennis had he not gotten injured. His decision to turn pro instead of launching his collegiate career at the University of Baylor wasn’t an easy one, but Brooksby is enjoying the journey. The surging #NextGenATP star is the youngest American to win three titles in a season since an 18-year-old Sam Querrey in 2006.
On Monday, Brooksby will be rewarded for his ruthless run with a career-high of No. 166 in the FedEx ATP Rankings. He also ascends to fifth in the ATP Race To Milan, moving into serious contention to qualify for the Next Gen ATP Finals.
CHAMPION… AGAIN ‼️
— ATP Challenger Tour (@ATPChallenger) April 25, 2021
Brooksby spoke to broadcaster Mike Cation following his victory in Tallahassee…
Congrats Jenson. You said you hadn’t played on clay in two years. How did you transition so well from hard courts?
The culture and mindset we train with at home involves not worrying about different conditions. I don’t concern myself with changing my game for hard or clay. I play the same style and just want to stay fresh out there from one week to the next. I keep practising as I’ve been doing and stay focused on what I can control.
Before we talk about today’s match, those first two matches – against a top junior in Martin Damm and the top seed Thiago Seyboth Wild – were not easy at all. Especially as you try to find your legs on clay. How did you adapt so quickly?
I had a lot of confidence coming into the week. And we train really physically back home. We get the legs used to this everyday grind. That’s definitely been improving a lot for me.
Bjorn Fratangelo beat you in Cleveland. It was a very tight match, in straight sets, and very competitive on a surface he really enjoys. What was the mindset today in terms of what you wanted to do against Bjorn?
We played a really good match in Cleveland. I talked with my coaches and looked at what we could take from the first match. I had to have an even better plan going into the match today and I was able to execute it pretty well to get the win.
You faced five break points early in the deciding set, at 2-all. Where were you mentally at that point and how did you hold it together?
In the second set, I mentally got weaker and more tired. But in the third set, I focused on the right things. If I’m going to say something to myself, make it the right thing to do. Just to give it my all mentally. He kept creating break chances, but I think it’s a credit to how mentally tough I was today. No matter how many chances he got, I kept telling myself to stick to the strategy.
Did you see the stats for break points?
He was 3-of-19 and you were 5-for-5.
Wow, really? I didn’t realize that.
What does that say about your game in big points?
I always have a pretty high break point percentage. Being 100 per cent today is great. It just shows that I was really focused on the strategy and executed really well on the important points.
Photo: Jacob Stuckey
What’s next for you? Obviously the French [Roland Garros] is looming and then Wimbledon quickly after that. How will you structure your schedule?
Well, I’ll rest a bit now. Will definitely talk with my coaches tonight and see what we want to do. We’ll get a good plan going to be ready for those tournaments for sure.
This is your first full year out here. How do you approach scheduling when you’ve never done this before?
It really is about taking it moment-by-moment and day-by-day. We don’t focus on peaking at a certain time. The mindset of getting better every day doesn’t allow for that. It doesn’t matter if it’s a [ITF] Futures event or a Grand Slam main draw. I just want to keep getting better as the year goes on and I feel I’ve done that so far.
At your age and at this level, most players would expect that you’ll lose focus and energy here and there. It’s natural for someone that doesn’t have much experience. But you never do that. Even if it’s 5-1 to your opponent or 40/0 in a game, you’re always competing in that moment. Where does that come from?
It all started with my coach Joseph back home. He engrained that mindset in me. But I feel like I’ve always had that in myself. It’s a great combination. It’s all about never giving up in any point. Even if you’re down two breaks and the set is almost over, you still want to fight. If you feel like you have the right shots and the right plan, there’s still another set to go. And even if you lose the match, there’s always another match to play the next week. It’s important to keep building that confidence and becoming a better player. I focus on those things in those moments and try to not let my emotions get in the way.
How do you sustain that emotional fortitude over time? Have you thought about that?
Not really. Obviously there are areas, mentally and physically, to improve and get better. But my mindset has always been great like this and I know I can compete like this every week. I know my ceiling is pretty high.
Last week, you said that you couldn’t celebrate much because you had a match in two days. Now, you don’t have another tournament coming up. What’s the plan to enjoy this?
We’re driving the car back to Orlando and then we’ll see whether I go home tomorrow morning or do fitness with my trainer for a bit. Either way, we’ll definitely get a nice dinner tonight and celebrate whenever I get home for sure. I’m really happy with these two weeks, so you have to do that.