Novak Djokovic had just broken back with a running forehand winner, easily getting to a drop shot and depositing it well out of Jenson Brooksby’s reach. He then locked eyes with his opponent for a good five seconds.
The world’s best player was sending a message to the young American: Your fun is over.
“I really wanted him to feel my presence on the court,” Djokovic recalled. “I felt like that was the point where, ‘OK, now I got him.’ ”
After a stunning first set and a few memorable 30-minute games in the second that wowed the large Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd, Djokovic restored order in his chase for the elusive and historic calendar-year Grand Slam.
The No. 1 seed moved on to the U.S. Open quarterfinals after a slow start, eliminating the unseeded Brooksby, 1-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 on Monday to advance to within three victories of becoming the first men’s player to win all four majors since Rod Laver in 1969. He will meet sixth-seeded Italian Matteo Berrettini next in a rematch of the Wimbledon final Djokovic won in four sets.
“I think the momentum was changed midway in the second set. We played a couple of very, very long games,” Djokovic said in his on-court interview. “After that, I started hitting probably more cleanly and through the court. Whenever I needed a serve, I found a serve. All in all, it was a very physical battle, a lot of exhausting rallies. Credit to him for his performance tonight. It was fantastic.”
It hasn’t been the smoothest tournament so far for Djokovic. He has dropped a set in three of his four matches, and has fallen behind in his last two. The first set was stunning in that it took the world’s 99th-ranked player just 29 minutes to put Djokovic in a hole, and he did so in emphatic fashion. And when he broke Djokovic to draw within 3-2 in the second set, the crowd was abuzz, sensing a potential mammoth upset.
“Atmospheres like that are what you want to be in front of since you were a little kid, watching on television when you were young, and now you’re living it,” Brooksby said. “It is something I really appreciate and I’m grateful to be here now.”
But from there, Djokovic took complete command. He won 11 of the next 14 games and by the fourth set, the match had become the mismatch most expected. Djokovic was overpowering Brooksby and holding serve with relative ease while running his tired opponent, who was coming off a five-set marathon upset over No. 21 Aslan Karatsev, from line to line. After the third set, Brooksby got looked at by a trainer. His movement had started to become severely limited due to an undisclosed leg problem he declined to reveal afterwards.
“I definitely think if there wasn’t that, I could have kept a better level up closer to the first set throughout the rest of the match,” he said.
Over the last two sets, Brooksby managed just one break point opportunity on Djokovic’s serve after converting three of 10 in the first two sets, while losing his serve four times. Djokovic closed the match impressively, by holding his serve at love and with a sharp-angle forehand volley, his 44th and final winner of the night.
“It was a good finish. It wasn’t a good start,” he said. “But all in all, I expected the battle, and I got one. I’m pleased to overcome it.”
At the match’s conclusion, the two men met at the net, and Djokovic offered Brooksby words of encouragement. The Californian impressed the best player in the world.
“A bright future is ahead of him,” Djokovic said. “He just needs to keep going, keep working and keep believing because he’s definitely got the game and he’s got the means.”