August 8, 2021

Summer Standouts

Tennis has taken a pretty unusual front seat in the sports world over recent months, with headlines around historic runs -- and surprising disappointments -- featuring front and center, not to mention the platform it's given issues surrounding mental health and elite sport.

But while so many have focused on the high profile names, a couple players have been quietly plugging away on court and have put together some headlines of their own worth watching. They might not have ultimately walked away with the titles, but they sure have been showing us exactly what they've got week after week.

High on that list is 20-year-old Jenson Brooksby, who wasn't on many people's radar before Newport last month, but maybe should have been. A qualifier at the U.S. Open in 2019, he ended the career of former world #4 Tomas Berdych with a first round upset before injury kept him out of play last year. He picked up right where he left off this season though, claiming a trio of Challenger titles before rocketing to the final in Rhode Island.

And he proved that run was no fluke this week in Washington. In a rematch of the Newport final against veteran Kevin Anderson, this time Brooksby came out the victor, and he followed up the win by taking out Wimbledon Cinderella Frances Tiafoe, second seed Felix Auger-Aliassime, and John Millman to boot. He may have lost the semis to teen phenom Jannik Sinner, but something tells me he's going to feature prominently the rest of this year.

So, too, could 19-year-old Brandon Nakashima, one of my players to watch at the start of the year. The former UVA standout may not have made a big splash at any of the Slams yet, but he's picked up a couple Challenger titles himself and in recent weeks seems ready to graduate into the big leagues.

Still ranked in the triple digits at the time, he beat both Sam Querrey and John Isner on his way to the final in Los Cabos and a week later took out Milos Raonic before losing to Isner in the Atlanta championship match. Finally in the top hundred now, Nakashima continued his run in DC as a wildcard, opening with a win over a very talented Alexei Popyrin and then ousting sixth seed Dan Evans in the second round. He ultimately lost to Denis Kudla a match later, but not without putting up a two-plus hour fight. And if he stays this consistent, there's no telling what he'll be able to do in the coming months.

Of couse, it's not just the newbies causing a stir in Washington. Former world #8 Jack Sock has been toiling for years to get back on top of the singles game and might finally be starting to get some traction -- he won a Challenger title in Little Rock in May, made the quarters in Newport, and this week put up a hell of a fight against Rafael Nadal in the third round. And former Citi Open champ Kei Nishikori, straight off a stunning upset of Andrey Rublev at the Olympics, got right back to work in DC and made the semis.

It's not all about the men, either. Veteran Andrea Petkovic may have fallen a bit down the rankings, but she's far from giving up the goat. Through Wimbledon this year she'd been 4-10 in main draw matches and failed to qualify for three events, pushing her down to #130 in the world. But since Wimbledon, she's turned on the gas, beating second seed Yulia Putintseva on her way to the Hamburg final and reaching the semis in Belgrade. This week at the inaugural Winners Open in Cluj-Napoca, Romania, she powered through a relatively wide open draw and earlier today took out Egypt's Mayar Sherif to win her first title in over six years.

And if Petko's return to glory wasn't inspiring enough, there's the continued run of Danielle Collins, who's performance the last few weeks begs the question -- where would she be now if she hadn't been dealing with health issues all this time. The 27-year-old American, who picked up her (inexplicably) first title last month in Palermo, is now riding a nine-match win streak with her run to a second straight final in San Jose.

Seeded seventh at the Silicon Valley Classic, she's already beaten former U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens, surpise French Open quarterfinalist -- and Olympic semifinalist -- Elena Rybakina, and comeback queen Ana Konjuh. For the title, she'll face off against Daria Kasatkina, who's having a strong comeback year herself, having won two titles already. And while the Russian has won the pair's previous two meetings, I wouldn't be surprised to see Collins ride her momentum to a win -- and maybe even farther than that.

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