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By Richard Pagliaro | Monday, September 6, 2021


Novak Djokovic solved crafty Jenson Brooksby 1-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 to set up a US Open quarterfinal vs. Matteo Berrettini, a rematch of the Wimbledon final.

Photo credit: Garrett Ellwood/USTA/US Open

Blown out in the opening set tonight, Novak Djokovic gazed at Arthur Ashe Stadium court as if searching for serenity.

Visualization spurred Djokovic into decisive demolition man.

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The world No. 1 deconstructed Jenson Brooksby’s diverse game, depleted his legs and defused danger with a 1-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 triumph to advance to his 12th US Open quarterfinal.

Continuing his quest to complete the calendar Grand Slam and collect a record 21st Grand Slam crown, Djokovic now stands just three victories from tennis immortality joining Rod Laver as the second man in Open Era history to attain the elusive calendar Grand Slam.

It wasn’t easy, but it was wildly entertaining at times. Brooksby’s clever and creative game is predicated on his movement, versatile and forceful backhand, skill taking the ball on the rise and his ability to put opponents in obscure positions on court.

It took the top seed about a set-and-a-half to understand the depth and variety of Brooksby's game. Once he did, a ruthless Djokovic worked the wild card corner to corner—and praised him as a bright prospect afterward.

“We both I think gave our best. Brooksby is a very young, very talented player,” Djokovic told ESPN’s Brad Gilbert afterward. “I told him at the net that a bright future is ahead of him, definitely. He’s a great player. He’s a great, great player.”

It was Djokovic’s 25th consecutive major match win setting up a blockbuster quarterfinal clash vs. Matteo Berrettini in a rematch of the Wimbledon final.

Earlier, Berrettini beat German qualifier Oscar Otte 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, to power into his second US Open quarterfinal.

Two months ago, Djokovic defeated Berrettini 6-7(4), 6-4, 6-4, 6-3 the Wimbledon final capturing a record-tying 20th career Grand Slam championship with his 21st consecutive major and Wimbledon win. The pair practiced together on Louis Armstrong Stadium the week before this US Open began and Djokovic expects an explosive experience when they reunite likely on Wednesday night.

“It’s gonna be exciting. He loves the big stage,” Djokovic said. “He’s already established Top 10, Top 5 in the world. Big serve, just big game overall.

“I’ve played him quite a few times on different surfaces. I know what to expect. I’m gonna try to prepare a good game plan and hope for the best.”

Credit the 99th-ranked Brooksby for throwing everything—deep drives, clever lobs, sidespininning shots, a two-handed chip drop shot, short slices and line-lacerating strikes—at the world No. 1 to unsettle Djokovic for a set-and-a-half.

Though Djokovic's victory seals ignominious American history—the exit of last American standing Brooksby means for the first time in the Open Era no American will contest the US Open singles quarterfinals—the 20-year-old Brooksby solidified his status as a player with a very bright future. 

One Djokovic found his groove, started stretching the wild card to his forehand side and effectively drained the legs and lungs of the Sacramento-born shotmaker, he took charge.

The Djokovic serve was a key stroke tonight. Djokovic drilled nine aces, saved eight of 11 break points and consistently served bigger on pivotal points—the Serbian’s average first-serve speed of 117 mph was 13 mph faster than Brooksby’s average first-serve and created more quick-strike opportunities.

“I must say that it wasn’t a great start for me, obviously Jenson was pumped, he had a clear game plan,” Djokovic said. “He was executing all the shots efficiently. I was really on my back foot. I didn’t have the rhythm made a lot of unforced errors. He was reading the play really well for about a set and a half.

“I think the momentum was changed midway through the second set. I lost my serve, but rebroke his serve right away the next game and after that I started hitting probably more cleanly. Whenever I needed a serve I found a serve. I hit my spots well. All in all it was a very, very physical battle, a lot of exhausting rallies. Credit to him for his performance tonight. It was fantastic.”

Brooksby broke the top seed in his opening service game sending a message and an electric buzz through the crowd. The Newport finalist burst out to a dream start going up 3-0. Djokovic drilled a 121 mph ace to cap a love hold and get on the board.

The depths of Brooksby’s drives pushed Djokovic back behind the baseline. The Serbian slapped a forehand off the tape as Brooksby branded a solid hold for 4-1.

A disjointed Djokovic jerked a forehand off the frame to face double break point in the sixth game. Forcing a backhand beyond the baseline Djokovic ended a sloppy game gifting the break and a 5-1 lead.

Brooksby curled a serve winner out wide then hurled his arms in the air exhorting fans to celebrate a near-flawless 29-minute opening set. Surprising the top seed with his quickness and ball-control attack, Brooksby played clean combinations committing just one forced error compared to nine for Djokovic.

Staring into space during the changeover as if preparing himself for the fight to come, Djokovic came out roaring to start the second set. The top seed gave Brooksby a taste of his own unpredictable play carving a soft drop shot for triple break point. A lunging volley earned Djokovic the break and he erupted in a primal scream celebrating the 2-0 lead and inciting the crowd.

One hour into the match Brooksby beat Djokovic in a series of extended exchanges for a third break point, but couldn’t control a heavy second serve from the Serbian. Djokovic denied a fourth break point angling off a smash. The physically-punishing fourth game waged on more than 20 minutes when Brooksby wrong-footed Djokovic with a sharp backhand converting his sixth break point and leaping around the court with exuberance back on serve.

Lung-busting rallies intensified as Djokovic dug down sprinting up to a drop shot and swatting a forehand pass to break back. Djokovic broke back for 4-2 punctuating an explosive point with a pointed stare down of his opponent.

Strengthened by that struggle, Djokovic served out the second set at love.

Departing the court for a bathroom break, Djokovic returned refreshed and committed to putting the American’s legs to the test. Playing patient crosscourt combinations, Djokovic stretched the wild card repeatedly rattling out the opening-game break. Djokovic slide his seventh ace down the middle consolidating the third-set break.

Two hours into a punishing physical match Brooksby had yet to hit an ace and was winning just 59 percent of his first-serve points. A struggle to earn free points on serve proved costly as Djokovic continued to grind the wild card breaking again for 3-0.

The toll of corner-to-corner exchanges with the world No. 1 after averaging four hours on court in each of his first three rounds sapped some strength from Brooksby’s legs and lungs. Meanwhile, Djokovic was looking more comfortable winning 11 of 13 trips to net in the third set.

Before the fourth set began, Brooksby called for the trainer and took massage treatment on his left hamstring. Exchanging concerned glances toward coach Joseph Gilbert, Brooksby looked a little depleted at the start of the set. He sent a second serve into the middle of the net gifting the break.

The man in black continued to battle, but Djokovic was thumping his serve with relaxed precision as the match progressed. Streaking from sideline-to-sideline, Djokovic lifted a brilliant sliding lob that coaxed a netted smash. That shot brought Arthur Ashe Stadium fans to their feet and Brooksby to his knees as Djokovic won three of the lastt eight games at love.

An acute-angled volley ended it a minute shy of thee hours as Djokovic greeted Brooksby with some words of support in the post-match handshake.


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