MELBOURNE, Australia — This year’s Australian Open is beginning to develop an American accent, or at least a California accent.
On Thursday, the unseeded Jenson Brooksby upset the No. 2 seed, Casper Ruud of Norway, by 6-3, 7-5, 6-7 (4), 6-2 in Rod Laver Arena in the second round.
That came less than 24 hours after another unseeded Californian, Mackenzie McDonald, upset the injured Rafael Nadal, the No. 1 seed and defending champion, on the same court.
“First and foremost, Casper is a warrior,” Brooksby said. “I knew it would be a great battle out there. I was pretty confident with my level and just wanted to have fun competing.”
It did not always look like fun from a distance. It was a grinding match, full of rallies with shot counts that extended into double digits. Though Brooksby won the vast majority of them — 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 went on to win the third set in a tiebreaker, which could have been the cue for Brooksby to fold. Instead, he walked back on 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, Brooksby broke Ruud again at love to reclaim full command of the match.
This time, he served out the victory as Ruud knocked a backhand long on Brooksby’s fifth match point.
The 2023 Australian Open
The year’s first Grand Slam tennis tournament runs from Jan. 16 to Jan. 29 in Melbourne.
“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. “Sometimes in those situations in three out of five, you get a little more tired mentally and physically for sure. I was getting frustrated, and my mentality was changing a bit. But it’s about how you respond to it.”
It was the most significant victory of Brooksby’s career, and it left the Australian Open without its top two men’s seeds before the second round was over.
Nadal, 36, announced on Thursday that he had undergone a magnetic resonance imaging scan after his elimination from the Australian Open. The scan showed an injury of the iliopsoas muscle in his left inner hip.
He plans to return to Spain for treatment and, according to the announcement from his team, “the normal time estimated for complete recuperation is between six and eight weeks.” That would likely mean that Nadal will miss the next block of hardcourt events, including the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, Calif. But if he recovers, Nadal could be ready to compete for the clay segment of the season. He has dominated on the surface for nearly two decades and could aim for a 15th singles title at the French Open.
Another Spanish star, Carlos Alcaraz, who is ranked No. 1 in the world, missed the Australian Open with a leg injury, which he suffered in practice shortly before he was supposed to leave Spain for Australia.
But Novak Djokovic, declared the pretournament favorite by oddsmakers and experts, did make it back to Melbourne after being forced to leave on the eve of the 2022 event after he arrived unvaccinated for the coronavirus. Djokovic, a nine-time Australian Open champion who is seeded No. 4, was to play in the second round later Thursday against the French qualifier Enzo Couacaud.
Although Djokovic is now the man to beat, even at age 35, the American men are clearly on the rise again.
Brooksby, a 22-year-old from Sacramento, is part of a deep and talented generation of players led by No. 8 seed Taylor Fritz and No. 16 Frances Tiafoe, who reached the semifinals at last year’s U.S. Open.
Tiafoe and Brooksby are among the seven American men who have so far advanced to the round of 32 at this Australian Open. The group includes Sebastian Korda, the 22-year-old son of former Australian Open men’s champion Petr Korda, and Ben Shelton, the 20-year-old son of former pro Bryan Shelton. The younger Shelton turned professional last year after winning the N.C.A.A. men’s singles title for the University of Florida and is into the third round in his first Australian Open.
Brooksby will face one of his compatriots, Tommy Paul, in the third round. Paul advanced with a 6-2, 2-6, 6-7 (4), 6-3, 6-4 victory on Thursday over Alejandro Davidovich Fokina of Spain.
“From my perspective, I think we all push each other to really get better, regardless of each guy’s situation,” Brooksby said. “I think that’s shown in a lot of the guys having strong results lately.”
The American men were not the only ones succeeding in Melbourne on Thursday. The American Katie Volynets, a 21-year-old qualifier ranked outside the top 100, recorded the biggest upset of the women’s tournament so far by defeating the No. 9 seed, Veronika Kudermetova of Russia, by 6-4, 2-6, 6-2. It was Volynets’s first match against a top 10 player, and she did not back down: competing and moving impressively as Kudermetova repeatedly cracked first in the baseline rallies.
Volynets, like Brooksby and McDonald, is from Northern California. The daughter of Ukrainian immigrants, she was raised in Walnut Creek, near San Francisco.
That, at this stage in the tournament, should come as no surprise.