For half an hour on Monday night, Novak Djokovic’s opponent in the US Open’s fourth round, Jenson Brooksby, gave him an almighty scare and created a raucous atmosphere under the lights at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
That let Djokovic know that Brooksby, a 20-year-old wildcard from California ranked 99th in the world, belonged. And then, unsurprisingly, Djokovic showed why he has managed to move within three victories of the first calendar-year grand slam in men’s tennis in 52 years.
Settling in and sending messages to Brooksby with some staredowns, Djokovic improved to 25-0 in majors this year by winning 1-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2. He extended his pursuit of a record-breaking 21st major championship while also eliminating the last American singles player in the tournament. It is the first time in the history of an event that dates to the 1880s that no man or woman from the host country has reached the quarter-finals.
One key to the turnaround by Djokovic, as good a returner as there is: he broke in Brooksby’s initial service game in each of the last three sets. Perhaps affected by the physical nature of the extended exchanges, Brooksby was visited by a trainer after the second set and again after the third. Still, for someone who never had set foot on Ashe’s blue court until about two hours before the match, Brooksby never seemed overwhelmed by the setting or the circumstances.
In the first set, Brooksby made one unforced error, Djokovic 11. And Brooksby won 14 of the points that lasted five strokes or more, Djokovic four. When Djokovic netted an overhead to move Brooksby two points from the set, most of the spectators in the 23,000-plus-capacity arena rose, clapping and screaming. When Djokovic missed a return to cede the set to his foe, Brooksby waved both arms and heard more loud support.
But Djokovic quickly broke to go up 2-0 in the second set and punched the air and shouted. At 3-1 fans were treated to an epic game: six break points, nice deuces, 24 points in all, spread out over nearly 20 minutes. Djokovic pushed the ball into the net to end the game and make it 3-2, prompting Brooksby to hop and jump and windmill his arm and cry, “Let’s go!”
And then, quick as can be, Djokovic regrouped. With Brooksby gasping for air, Djokovic broke right back and, soon enough, the outcome was clear. Djokovic next meets No 6 seed Matteo Berrettini of Italy in a rematch of the Wimbledon final.
Djokovic paid tribute to Brooksby in his on-court interview, saying: “He just played a perfect first set – I couldn’t do much because I was still finding my groove. He disguises his shots very well and he is very talented. He’s so crafty and such an intelligent player. He’s only 20 so he’s got a lot of time ahead of him.”
Djokovic pinpointed the middle of the second set as the turning point.
“I think the momentum changed midway through the second set when I came through a couple of long games then I started hitting more cleanly,” added Djokovic. “All in all it was a very physical battle with a lot of exciting rallies, and credit to him for his performance tonight, it was fantastic.”
Earlier on Monday, Alexander Zverev booked his place in the quarter-finals with his 15th straight victory. The German beat 13th-seeded Jannik Sinner 6-4, 6-4, 7-6. He will play South Africa’s Lloyd Harris, who saw off another American, Reilly Opelka.
US Open men’s singles quarter-finals
Novak Djokovic (1) v Matteo Berrettini (6)
Alexander Zverev (4) v Lloyd Harris
Félix Auger-Aliassime (12) v Carlos Alcaraz
Botic van de Zandschulp v Daniil Medvedev (2)