You can bet the venues weren’t colossal when he was reeling off Challenger titles in places like Potchefstroom, South Africa and Tallahassee, Florida.
But Jenson Brooksby, 20, is fast growing accustomed to life on the sport’s very biggest stages. In September, the Sacramento native powered his way into the Round of 16 at the US Open, downing fellow Californian Taylor Fritz and 25th-ranked Aslan Karatsev of Russia in the process. Facing World No. 1 and calendar-year-Slam-seeking Novak Djokovic the 24,000-seat Arthur Ashe Stadium, he stole the opening set and brought New Yorkers to their feet.
On Friday at the BNP Paribas Open, he took out Turkish qualifier Cem Ilkel, 7-6(5), 6-4, in the 16,000-seat Stadium 1. We caught up with the rising star after the one-hour, 43-minute victory.
What’s it like for a California kid to play in Stadium 1 in what is essentially his home tournament, the BNP Paribas Open?
It was really cool to be on that stage for the first time. It’s a big stadium. I had some family there. I think I was a little nervous in my first match, which is to be expected, but I really appreciate being in this atmosphere, getting to play in Indian Wells.
You’re only 20, but is this all starting to feel normal for you? Playing in Ashe Stadium at the US Open must have been an out-of-body experience?
It definitely was. It doesn’t get bigger than that. It makes you more comfortable being on any court, in any situation. Having those experiences so far has really helped me get more comfortable week in, week out at these tournaments.
It’s been a few weeks now since your run in Flushing Meadows. Can you reflect on that experience and what you learned?
It was really beneficial for me to take a few weeks off from tournaments after that. There’s no doubt that was a good result, but the emotions and the energy were really high. It was good to take a little time off and to be able to reflect, to really be able to move on from that mentally and start focusing on the next tournaments. But I really enjoy being in those atmospheres at the Slams, the US Open. I think I learned a lot, played well. I’m hoping to show those things in the tournaments the rest of the year and going into next year.
Can you talk about your matchup with Djokovic in particular? It’s not every day you take a set off of the World No. 1, a guy with 20 majors. You didn’t seem overwhelmed by the moment in the least.
I agree. That comes from your mental preparation, how you approach everything. You don’t check your results, you don’t let these other factors get in your head. That comes from my discipline and how much I’m believing in myself, not reading or seeing other outside factors that don’t affect me. I know that’s something I still need to work on. Me doing a lot better at that this year has really shown out there in my confidence, seeing that I can really beat anyone. The Djokovic match also showed me what I need to work on in a match like that, how I got worn down. There were a lot of positives to take forward, too.
The consensus from your opponents seems to be that you bring a whole different look to the court, even an unorthodox style. Djokovic called you a smart, crafty player with an all-around game.
I don’t really put too much thought into it, the comments, what people say. At the same time, it’s good that I’m getting my presence out there. It shows what I’ve been doing, what I’ve been working on, has been good. I just need to keep on the same path I’ve been on.