By: Ben Raby (www.twitter.com/benraby31)
American Jenson Brooksby continues to look at home in his maiden Citi Open appearance. The 20-year-old wild card needed just 67 minutes on Friday to beat the 11th-seeded John Millman 6-1, 6-2 in the opening quarterfinal on Stadium Court.
A week removed from competing in the Lexington (Kentucky) Challenger, Brooksby is enjoying a coming-out-party of sorts in Washington. Not bad for the Sacramento native who admits, he wasn’t even supposed to be here.
Originally pegged as a wild card standby, Brooksby’s formal invite for the tournament only came after a handful of players were forced to withdraw at the last minute. Fortunately for tournament officials, Brooksby was added to the field hours before the ATP Tour’s formal deadline. To Brooksby’s credit, he’s making the most of the opportunity.
“I came motivated and ready to compete my butt off here and show my level consistently,” he said. “I’m excited to keep proving my level and keep going out there and competing.”
Brooksby is easily navigating through the draw of first ATP 500-level tournament, having won all four of his matches this week in straight-sets. Along the way, Brooksby has taken out former world No.5 Kevin Anderson, local favorite Frances Tiafoe and No.2 seed Felix Auger-Aliassime.
“I’m not surprising myself,” said Brooksby, who carries a healthy swagger and has shown a knack for frustrating his opponents. Tiafoe described Brooksby’s game as “super unorthodox.”
Against Millman on Friday, Brooksby’s showed off his terrific anticipation and defensive skills.
On several points, Millman appeared in control, dictating play with Brooksby on the run. The 6-foot-4 Brooksby can scoot, though, and his ability to recover and return effectively allows him to prolong points and eventually turn defense into offense.
It’s a style that’s quickly earning Brooksby plenty of praise both in Rock Creek Park and far beyond. On Friday, former world No.1 Andy Murray lauded Brooksby’s game on social media.
“Jenson Brooksby is the sort of player I love to watch,” Murray tweeted. “Lots of variety… high tennis IQ… great in defense. His [two-handed backhand] slice and backhand volley are almost identical to Florian Mayer.”
Brooksby took the compliments in stride.
“I think that's very accurate,” he said. “Obviously that's great words to hear from Andy. I mean, he's been one of the best in the sport and a great guy to look up to. That means a lot. That's great words coming from him.”
Brooksby’s win over Millman was his most convincing of the week, as he broke the Aussie in the first game of the match and led throughout. Brooksby saved the only break point he faced en route to becoming the youngest American to reach the Final-4 in Washington since an 18-year-old Andy Roddick in 2001.
Brooksby will next face No.5 seed Jannik Sinner in the semifinals Saturday in a battle between a pair of Next-Gen ATP Stars. Sinner reached the semis with a 6-4, 6-2 win over American Steve Johnson.
Sinner arrived in Washington on a four-match losing streak, but the 19-year-old Italian has found his form, winning three matches in as many days without dropping a set.
“Winning three matches for me was important, especially for the next tournaments,” he said. “Having some match practice, singles and doubles, which I think doubles helps me, helps me a lot, helps me on the net and on serve and return.”
Sinner won the doubles title last week in Atlanta with American Reilly Opelka and has also reached the semifinals in doubles in DC with partner Sebastian Korda.
The only teenager ranked inside the ATP Tour’s top-25, Sinner is the last seed remaining in the singles draw in Washington as he vies for his second title of the year (Melbourne). Sinner is also inching closer to officially securing a spot in the 2021 Next Gen ATP Finals in Milan.
The semifinal showdown between Brooksby and Sinner will be the second youngest Final-4 matchup in Washington in the last 30 years. Only a 2018 semifinal between Alex de Minaur, then 19, and Andrey Rublev, then 20, narrowly edges out the Brooksby-Sinner match as the youngest semi in DC since 1991.
Sinner admits, he’s not quite sure what to expect from Brooksby in the first ever encounter.
“I think he's a very tricky player,” Sinner said. “He is maybe in the best moment of his young, young career, playing the best tennis.
“I think it's going to be a very interesting match, a very tough match. He puts a lot of balls in the court. It's very, maybe it's going to be physical.”
Prior to this week, Brooksby’s deepest run on Tour came last month when he reached the final of the Hall of Fame Open – a 250-level event in Newport.
Brooksby arrived in Washington ranked 130th on the ATP Tour. He is now projected to crack the top-100 for the first time.