HIGHLIGHTS: Sinner eases past Brooksby

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The wave that Jenson Brooksby was riding this week in Washington, D.C., this week finally ran into a wall, by the name of Jannik Sinner, that it couldn’t surmount on Saturday.

The moment when that wave was turned back was very clear. The 20-year-old American and the 19-year-old Italian had held serve 11 straight times to open the first set. They had stood tall at the baseline—Sinner is 6’2” and Brooksby 6’4”—and belted their powerful forehands and two-handed backhands at each other. They had rolled through quick and efficient service holds. They had shown off different wrinkles in their games—Brooksby feathered in his two-handed backhand drop shot; Sinner charged forward and closed out points with emphatic smashes. Only Brooksby had faced a break point, at 5-5, and he had saved that with an ice-in-the-veins drop shot-passing shot combination.

With Sinner serving at 5-6, Brooksby appeared ready to break the logjam. He won the first point with excellent defense. He won the second with a no-backswing forehand return winner. He won the third after hitting another big return, this time from the backhand side. He was up 0-40, triple set point. The Brooksby wave seemed destined to carry him to a one-set lead.

Instead, that’s where it ended. Sinner saved the first set point with a service winner. Brooksby lost the next point when his slice backhand approach caught the tape. And Sinner saved the third with a good kick second serve that got up on Brooksby and forced a return error. Those perfectly timed returns that began the game, it seems, were the last bits of magic that he had in his racquet for the week. In the tiebreaker, Brooksby hit a forehand into the net, a backhand into the net, a backhand return into the net, a backhand wide, and a drop shot into the net. Sinner broke in the fourth game of the second set and ran out a 7-6 (2), 6-1 win.

“He missed a couple of close shots,” is how the ever-polite Italian described the difference in this match. He also said that Brooksby is “already an expert” for such a young player. It was left to his on-court interviewer, Patrick McEnroe, to remind Sinner that Brooksby is “older than you!”

Sinner is bidding to lift his second singles trophy of the year (Melbourne 1).

Sinner is bidding to lift his second singles trophy of the year (Melbourne 1).

What’s the difference between the 24th-ranked Sinner and the 130th-ranked Brooksby at this early stage in their careers? Faced with three set points, Sinner didn’t grow frustrated or deviate from his usual game; on the third set point, he made an adjustment and came up with a slightly bigger kick second serve than normal, which took Brooksby by surprise. When the two players leaned on their backhands, Sinner made slightly fewer errors than Brooksby. And when he loosened up in the second set, Sinner found a level with his forehand that Brooksby couldn’t match. At times, the second set looked like one long inside-out winner from him.

From the U.S. side, fans should be happy that Brooksby held his own with one of the game’s most highly-touted young players. The American is a shot-maker, and shot-makers take risks. Changing directions, hitting drop shots, blasting the ball over the high part of the net, putting it an inch inside the sideline: It’s brilliant and thrilling when it works. But it won’t work every time. The key for Brooksby will be learning exactly when to take those risks and when to play it a little safer.

From the Italian side, fans should be happy to see Sinner make a 500-level final, and make his rise into the Top 10 continue to seem inevitable. Asked how he came through in the tiebreaker, Sinner sounded like an old pro:

“I managed the situation,” he said.

After his wins over Brooksby and another American, Seb Korda, this week, the 19-year-old Sinner patted his slightly older opponents on the back and gave them encouragement, the way an elder statesman would. Sinner already knows he has a place waiting for him at the top of the game. He has a place in another final on Sunday, too.