Sunday, December 27, 2020

NorCal's Brooksby turns pro after bizarre college career

Jenson Brooksby, who reached the second round of the 2019 U.S. Open as a qualifier,
turned pro after never playing a match for Baylor University. 2018 photo
by Paul Bauman
   Jenson Brooksby turned pro earlier this month, ending a bizarre college career in which he never played a match.
   The 20-year-old resident of Carmichael in the Sacramento, Calif., area announced on Dec. 8 that he was leaving Baylor University in Waco, Texas, as a redshirt freshman.
   "I've been putting in more fitness work and feel like my body is more ready, and I feel my game has improved in the last year," Brooksby, who reached the second round of the 2019 U.S. Open as a qualifier, said in a Cracked Racquets podcast on Dec. 11. "I just think I'm ready to go out there and compete week in and week out."
   There likely is more to it than that. Had Brooksby remained at Baylor, he could have missed a second consecutive season because of the COVID-19 pandemic while players such as American Sebastian Korda, 20, Italian Lorenzo Musetti, 18, and American Brandon Nakashima, 19, have turned pro and soared to No. 118, No. 128 and No. 166 in the world, respectively. 
   Korda, the 6-foot-5 (1.96-meter) son of former world No. 2 Petr Korda, reached the fourth round of the French Open as a qualifier in October. 
   The 6-foot-1 (1.85-meter) Nakashima won his first Challenger singles title in Orlando, Fla., last month in his final tournament of the year. 
   Brooksby defeated Nakashima 6-2, 6-3 in the quarterfinals of the 2018 Easter Bowl en route to the title in Indian Wells, Calif., and 6-4, 7-5 five months later in the quarters of the U.S. Open Junior Championships before losing to Musetti in the semifinals.
   Musetti, 18, advanced to the third round of the Italian Open as a qualifier in September, stunning three-time Grand Slam singles champion Stan Wawrinka and 2014 U.S. Open runner-up Kei Nishikori, both rebounding from surgery. 
   "I wouldn't say it had any effect on my decision to go pro," Brooksby, 6-foot-4 (1.93 meters), said of the prospects' success. However, Brooksby added, "I've seen their results, and it makes me a little motivated because I believe I can go out there and do that as well." 
   Furthermore, Brian Boland abruptly resigned in July after two years as Baylor's coach. Boland guided Virginia to four NCAA team titles in five years (2013-17). Collin Altamirano, who like Brooksby has trained at the JMG Tennis Academy in Sacramento since childhood, played on three of those NCAA championship teams. Altamirano and Brooksby won the USTA Boys 18 National Championships in Kalamazoo, Mich., in 2013 and 2018, respectively.
   Brooksby shocked former Wimbledon runner-up Tomas Berdych in the opening round of last year's U.S. Open before losing to Georgia's Nikoloz Basilashvili, seeded 17th and ranked 18th, in four sets in the second round. Brooksby came within a tiebreaker of leading Basilashvili two sets to none.
   The Brooksby match turned out to be the last of Berdych's career, in which he peaked at No. 4 and amassed almost $30 million in prize money. The Czech retired at age 34 in November last year after missing most of the previous 16 months because of a back injury.
   Also in 2019, Brooksby won three $25,000 tournaments (all in the United States), including two in two weeks. Ranked a career-high No. 266 in November last year, Brooksby has slipped to No. 307. He has not played in a professional tournament or college match since reaching the third round of the Houston Challenger in November 2019.
   Brooksby verbally committed to Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas, in April 2018 as the nation's top recruit but changed his mind after Boland took the Baylor job following one year as the head of men's tennis for USTA Player Development. 
   Brooksby enrolled at Baylor in January but missed all 16 of the Bears' matches because of turf toe and a related bone bruise. He was on campus for only two months before the pandemic ended the NCAA season in mid-March. 
    "Baylor means a lot to me," Brooksby said on baylorbears.com. "The facilities, the staff, the resources, and most importantly the kindness of the people of Waco (are) second to none. I will cherish these relationships for the rest of my life. You will see me proudly wearing my Baylor gear at my future tournaments around the world."

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