Tennis Channel Live: The American men at this year's US Open

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Jenson Brooksby’s 6-7 (7), 7-6 (10), 7-5, 6-4 win over Taylor Fritz on Thursday night at the US Open lasted four hours and 323 points. It likely consisted of more than 1,000 shots. Could one of them—just one—have made the difference in who won and who lost?

The shot in question came with Brooksby serving at 4-5, 15-15 in the third set. The first two sets, which took the better part of three hours, had produced some flat-out crazy shot-making from both of these Californians. As expected, Fritz had bombed the ball; he would finish with 15 aces, 59 winners, and 74 unforced errors. As expected, Brooksby improvised, defended, scrapped, and never gave up, even when giving up seemed to be the only option. He hit just 33 winners, but he made only 48 errors, was 17 of 25 at the net, and seemed to have the perfect first serve for every break point he faced.

Yet at its peak, this match was more than a contrast in styles. Each player forced the other to do more, and to take on some of their opponent’s attributes. Fritz may have ended with a high error count, but he was also remarkably consistent and resilient for the first three sets—he hit big, while also somehow playing safely. Brooksby, meanwhile, instead of going to the two-handed slice drop shots that he loves so much, went toe-to-toe with Fritz on big points, and found the corners virtually every time.

The match was at its best during the first two tiebreakers. Both players swung harder and grunted louder—especially Brooksby. Both ran down everything in sight—especially Brooksby. While Fritz seemed destined to overmatch his younger opponent, it was Brooksby’s extra effort, and a few down-the-line lasers when he needed them, that finally won the war.

Brooksby can play with physicality, he can hit blazing winners and use his opponent’s pace, but he also has a knack for anticipating his opponent’s shots, and hitting his own where the other guy isn’t.

Brooksby can play with physicality, he can hit blazing winners and use his opponent’s pace, but he also has a knack for anticipating his opponent’s shots, and hitting his own where the other guy isn’t.

It wasn’t obvious at the time, but we were watching one player take the other’s best punch, and slowly grind him down with body blows over 15 rounds. Brooksby seemed to know exactly where Fritz was going with every putaway, every volley, every smash. He kept the rallies going for one more ball, until Fritz was left with nowhere to put it. For good measure, Brooksby also took a 12-minute bathroom break after the second set, and a six-minute break after the third, leaving Fritz more time to ponder his lost opportunities.

And that’s where the shot I mentioned earlier comes in. Serving at 4-5 in the third set, Brooksby seemed to be in a lull, and Fritz seemed to have weathered the storm. At 15-15, Brooksby hit a short ball crosscourt. Fritz responded with a more acute crosscourt angle. And then Brooksby reached out and slapped the ball around the net post, not more than a few inches off the ground, right onto the sideline for a stupefying winner. Suddenly, his lull was over. He ran around the umpire’s chair waving his arms.

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There was energy again in the arena, and it was all on Brooksby’s side. He would hold, break Fritz for the first time in the match at 5-5, and run way with the fourth set.

As he did in Newport and D.C. this summer, the 20-year-old Brooksby showed himself to be a unique talent and competitor tonight. He can play with physicality, he can hit blazing winners and use his opponent’s pace, but he also has a knack for anticipating his opponent’s shots, and hitting his own where the other guy isn’t.

According to Brooksby, he does it in the spur of the moment.

“I just try to move the ball and just see where [my opponent is] located at the time,” he said last month of how he decides where to hit the ball. “And then just try to make them move. Yeah, I just try to base it on how I think the point is going and how I’m feeling with the shots.”

“Just try to make them move”: It sounds so simple, doesn’t it? And that’s probably why it works so well.