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The Tennis Conversation: Jenson Brooksby, a piano man and Nadal fan
After dominating at the Challenger level this spring, the 20-year-old American contests his first ATP final on Sunday in Newport against Kevin Anderson.
Published Jul 18, 2021
MATCH POINT: Brooksby outclasses Thompson at the Hall of Fame Open
Before this week in Newport, Jenson Brooksby had one tour-level win to his name—a memorable first-round victory over Tomas Berdych at the 2019 US Open. The injury bug kept him off the match court for the entirety of 2020, but the American has more than made up for lost time this year. Thanks to a trio of Challenger titles and successful qualification into his first Roland Garros main draw, Brooksby saw his ranking soar from No. 310 at the start of the season to No. 152 heading into the US Open series.
And now, he’s set to climb even higher. Brooksby, who has won 32 of 37 matches contested across all levels in 2021, plays for the Hall of Fame Open trophy against two-time Grand Slam finalist Kevin Anderson on Sunday. The 20-year-old reached the final in his maiden grass-court event without dropping a set this week (he knocked out seventh seed Jordan Thompson, 6-3, 7-6 (3), in Saturday’s semifinals) and is projected to break into the Top 130 at a minimum.
In this edition of the TENNIS Conversation, learn more about his backstory and what differentiates the Sacramento, Calif. native from his peers.
Was your connection to tennis always instant? Or was there a different stage where you realized it was something you wanted to pursue?
BROOKSBY: I've played since I was four years old. I had a Nerf ball and hit it against the garage wall with a racquet from 7 to 8 in the morning, before school. I just loved playing. I played other sports when I was younger—soccer, basketball, some others. But I always enjoyed the individual aspect of tennis. I feel like I was also the best at it, so then I ended up sticking to it when I was 13.
Did someone else in your family play? Just wondering how the racquet found your hands.
BROOKSBY: Yeah. My parents both played, actually. My dad started a little bit in college for fun, and my mom also played for years as well. They introduced me to the sport. So, it does have some family ties.
What’s the story behind your first name? And any preferred nicknames we should be aware of?
BROOKSBY: Just "JT." My middle name is Tyler, so that's a common one, too. My first name was supposed to be Tyler, but my dad used to race cars and he likes Formula One driver Jenson Button, so I was named after him. It’s an English name, and my dad is half English ancestry. Both my parents liked the name.
In your own words, what kind of player is Jenson Brooksby?
BROOKSBY: Unique. My game is not based on weapons or weaknesses; I feel like I'm very solid all around. My movement's good. I move the ball around well. And I stay very disciplined and mentally focused throughout the point, I'd say.
Setbacks are part of the journey. What allowed you to emerge from a trying 2020 with a positive mindset?
BROOKSBY: In 2019, I had a lot of momentum at the US Open. But in the fourth set of the second round, I hurt my arm, and that began a series of injuries. In mid-December I had a toe injury, which was pretty bad. I was in a boot for a while at Baylor. I'd say January, once I knew how long the injury would be, was definitely the toughest month. At the time, not knowing that the pandemic would eventually freeze the rankings, I thought I was going to plummet. It was a rough year for everybody, but it made me more appreciative of being able to compete, win, and to just enjoy the process more. Going through that rough patch, I feel like that's the lowest it'll be. And I have a long way to go.
Is there actually a silver lining here, in that you were able to unlock a different side of yourself?
BROOKSBY: Yeah, definitely. Overcoming something as tough as that for as long of a period gives you confidence and more belief. I knew I had the game, but during those times when I couldn't play for a long while, I was able to work mentally. Even physically, like upper body core, things like that. I was trying to keep myself motivated to do just whatever I could to get better every day in the meantime. It helped me put harder work in the gym.
Speaking of the US Open, are you a competitor who feeds off of crowd energy, or do you have the same approach, week in and week out?
BROOKSBY: Weirdly, I feel like it's kind of both. I do like playing in front of crowds a lot, like at the US Open. It always gets your nerves and adrenaline going, but it just gives me even more motivation to play in front of a lot of people like that. But at the same time, all the hours I put in the practice courts, there's never anyone watching that. So I'm able to stay focused well, even without lots of fans. It doesn't really affect how I'm going to play, how I'm going to train or how I'm going to focus.
Who on tour right now do you enjoy watching when you get a chance to kick back and observe?
BROOKSBY: I'd say my favorite player to watch is Nadal, just because the mental strength he has. Every single match, you know he's going to show up and perform the best he can. I think he's the best at that, so he's definitely the player I try to look up to in terms of those areas.
I hear you’re a pretty serious piano player. What are three songs you have in your back pocket, that you could sit down and deliver on the spot if asked?
BROOKSBY: Oh man. I love playing classical songs. I'd say my favorites are Sonata No. 3 from Bach, and then Clocks and The Final Countdown. They’re my go-tos if I have to play. It's obviously tougher to play when I'm traveling so much as a pro, but I have an electric piano in my house. I take lessons sometimes. It's probably my favorite hobby to do when I'm home, to relax.
Maybe we could see you and Ugo Humbert team up for a duet one day. That would be fun.
BROOKSBY: Oh, he plays piano, too?
He does. From the outside, Ugo also appears to be more of an introvert, but the piano is something he uses to relax as well.
BROOKSBY: Cool, I didn't know that. I'll have to look one up. That's sweet.