Jenson Brooksby isn’t sure how many autographs he signed after winning his first main-draw match at the US Open over veteran Tomas Berdych on Monday.
“I couldn’t give a number, it was a whole lot,” the 18-year-old native of Carmichael, Calif., said after taking out the 34-year-old Berdych, 6-1, 2-6, 6-4, 6-4 on Court 13 to set up a second-round encounter with No. 17 Nikoloz Basilashvili of Georgia.
“I’ve done it a couple matches here and I love it,” Brooksby, the only American man to come through qualifying to make the main draw, added of giving autographs.
The more he wins at the Open — and the more autographs he gives — the tougher becomes a decision looming in his future: Should he turn pro or attend Baylor on a full scholarship?
“I haven’t deciced whether I’m still going to college or not, it’s still up in the air,” Brooksby, the 2018 USTA National 18’s junior champion who earned a wildcard to the U.S. Open main draw in 2018, said somewhat hesitantly. “I’ll see where the rest of the tournament ends up, and then also where my ranking is in the next two months after this.”
“The more I win here, the more likely it could go in the other direction.”
Brooksby picked up $58,000 just for being in the first round and will get $100,000 now that he’s in the second. If he wins his next match, he would earn $163,000. So Brooksby — currently ranked No. 394 in the world — and his family must now weigh the pros and cons of turning pro against going to Baylor on a full ride. Yearly tuition at Baylor is about $43,000 not including room, meals and fees, which account for nearly another $20,000.
Baylor is a perennial power that was ranked ninth in the NCAA rankings in April and won the NCAA title in 2004.
“Yeah, it’s definitely financial because I would get four years of free college if I went just for one semester compared with the money I earn here,” he said. “You gotta figure all that out.”
Brooksby said he was thinking of turning pro before he came to New York. He then proceeeded to qualify for the main draw by winning three qualifying matches. He was also given a wildcard into the mixed doubles with partner Hailey Baptiste.
“It gets tougher the more I win here,” he said of his looming decision. “You want to win, obviously, but then it makes the decision even tougher.”
Baylor tennis coach Brian Boland was on hand for the win over Berdych, but said he would rather not comment for this story. He understands he cannot control anything and wishes the best for Brooksby going forward.
“Words cannot describe what it means to have Jenson Brooksby joining the Baylor Bears next season,” Boland said when Brooksby signed last December. “Signing the No. 1 American recruit in the country is a reflection of where this program is headed and I couldn’t be happier to be part of this athletic department and university.”
John McEnroe, who played a year at Stanford, has been a supporter of college tennis, pointing out that top-20 players like John Isner and Kevin Anderson have had pro success at older ages after maturing while playing college tennis. Most recently, Danielle Collins, a two-time N.C.A.A. champion at Virginia, advanced to the semifinals of the Australian Open at 25.
“Honestly, I think college tennis is the best it’s ever been,” Columbia’s Jack Mingie Lin told me for a New York Times piece this spring. “There are so many transitional players playing at such a high level.”
Brooksby said he’s received supportive texts from his Baylor teammates, who are rooting him on at the Open.
“They believe I’m going for sure and haven’t asked questions about whether I’m coming or not,” he said.
This was just the third best-of-five set match Brooksby has played in his life, following the Kalamazoo final last year and his first-round match at the Open in 2018.
“Now I’ve played more Challengers and bigger tournaments so I’m more ready for the stage this year,” he said.
When he first saw he was facing Berdych, he felt optimistic.
“I thought I had a good chance for sure,” he said. “He’s obviously a very good player but he’s dropped a little lately and I liked my chances.”
Berdych, 33, is a former Wimbledon finalist who was once ranked as high as No. 4 in the world but is now No. 98 due to back issues.
“He looked slightly slow I suppose but I don’t think he had any injuries or anything this week,” Brooksby said.
A perennial threat at Grand Slams for much of his career, Berdych appears to be close to retirement. He said he felt “terrible” on court Monday.
“Yeah, I’m very close,” he said of retirement. “This was my third try that I tried and really I cannot much find the right solution which can get through it and also I’m not 24 anymore so it’s a bit different to see the results from what I’m doing in those days.”
He added: “That’s really not feeling nice. That has nothing to do with winning or losing, it has to do with losing to yourself…When the situation is just that you are not the one who has things in control and in charge, then it’s difficult.”
While Berdych appears on his way out of pro tennis, Brooksby could be on the verge of entering it.
The U.S. hasn’t had a Grand Slam champion since Andy Roddick won the US Open in 2003. A new wave of Americans like Reilly Opelka, Taylor Fritz and Frances Tiafoe are now coming up, and Brooksby would love to be part of the next wave.
“I know that I’m American and they want Americans to do well,” Brooksby said. “I appreciate that they want me to do well, I guess.”