Theirs was a grinding match, full of rallies whose shot count extended into double digits. Though Brooksby won the vast majority of those — quite an achievement against a baseliner as accomplished as Ruud — he could not convert any of the three match points he had on his own serve at 5-3 in the third set.
Distraught, Brooksby sat in his chair on the changeover shouting “How, how how?”
Ruud won the third set in a tiebreaker, which could have been the cue for Brooksby to fold. Instead, he walked back onto the court after a break in the locker room and broke Ruud twice in a row to take a 3-0 lead. Then, after losing his serve, he broke Ruud again at love to reclaim full command of the match.
“I’m just really proud of my mental resolve there, after the third-set battle didn’t go my way, to turn it around,” Brooksby said.
It was the standout victory of Brooksby’s career, and it was a bad day all around for No. 2 seeds. Ons Jabeur, the No. 2 seed in the women’s singles tournament, was defeated after midnight, 6-1, 5-7, 6-1, by Marketa Vondrousova, an unseeded Czech lefthander.
Tennis is a draining, mood-swinging sport, full of surprises, and the bottom quarter of the men’s singles draw is now a zone of great opportunity for outsiders, including the 66th-ranked Murray and five unseeded Americans: Brooksby, Ben Shelton, J.J. Wolf, Michael Mmoh and Tommy Paul.
The surprise is that the American men’s surge in Melbourne does not include their leader: the No. 8 seed Taylor Fritz, who was upset on Thursday in five sets, 6-7 (4), 7-6 (2), 6-4, 6-7 (6), 6-2, by Alexei Popyrin, another Australian wild-card entrant.