Alright, it doesn’t look good from where Dustin Brown is currently ranked: Number 97 in the world.
And he played a major self-destructive role in his straight-sets defeat to Andy Murray in the second round of Wimbledon on Wednesday. But the trick shot artist still managed to make quite a spectacle of it. Nothing about him suggests a 21st Century professional tennis athlete. He has stick-thin limbs, piercings and most strikingly, long dreadlocked hair. He’s more Jamaican than German in temperament (his father is Jamaican and mother German). Rather than worrying about the percentage shots in tennis, Brown is more likely to start singing lines like "Don’t gain the world and lose your soul, wisdom is better than silver and gold," by one of his heroes, Bob Marley.
After the super-intense three-hour battle between Johanna Konta and Donna Vekic, that preceded Murray and Brown’s match on Centre Court, he made tennis light and fun again. He turns it into a cat-and-mouse game, rather than the gladiatorial baselines battles to which we are now accustomed.
Brown’s ingenuity can especially shine through on grass — the only surface that gives serve-and-volley players some sort of a chance. The 32-year-old achieved his biggest victory at Wimbledon, when he defeated Rafael Nadal in the second round in 2015. At this year’s Australian Open, Murray was at his wits' end against another accomplished serve-and-volleyer, Mischa Zverev, and suffered an early exit at his hands.
Going into the match against Murray, Brown had hoped to make life difficult for the home favourite. "I’m just going to have to try to find a way to be aggressive and try to not have him play the type of game he wants to play," he said, "I just try to take them (opponents) out of their comfort zone." Early on, he transported not just Murray, but even the audience out of its comfort zone. Initially in the match, as Murray was parked well outside the baseline, Brown was trading only in drops and lobs. And then out of the blue, he slapped a flat backhand cross court winner that whizzed past Murray at 95 miles per hour (approximately 153 kilometres per hour). The deceptive power brought a wry smile from Murray.
In the commentary box, John McEnroe and company were twittering and giggling like teenage girls every time he hit an improbable shot. They were lost for words. Brown’s shots, more importantly his construction of points, don’t really come from a textbook. They are meant to be marvelled at, not really analysed.
Murray is always relentless, Brown is restless.
His quick-release service motion is a case in point; his tennis is reactive and unpredictable. He's exasperating and he's exhilarating. One minute, you are enamoured by the artistry, the other you are shouting at the television, a lot like while watching a horror-thriller movie, hurling abuse and warnings at the protagonist as she walks into a clear trap.
Did you see that?
What's he doing that for?
You ride the roller-coaster with Brown.
Early on in the first set, Brown had the entire court open after he had drawn Murray past the tramlines while chasing a drop, but dumped it into the net. "He couldn’t put the forehand volley away," said the TV commentator, "He had to go for the no-look shot." Brown is nothing, if not spectacular.
On Wednesday, he appeared to have an obsessive compulsive drop-shot disorder — and Murray, even with his injured hip — saw through this limited strategy and neutralised it effectively. During his 3-6, 2-6, 2-6 defeat, Brown hit 30 winners and 28 unforced errors, eight of which came off the drop shot. He came to the net a stunning 60 times but made only 29 of those count. Brown served a double fault to hand Murray a break in the eighth game of the first set, allowing the Scotsman to take a 5-3 lead. That was where his inspiration pretty much ran out. Over 96 minutes, Murray gave him absolutely nothing, not even a break point. He was oblivious to Brown’s charms.
Against Nadal, two years ago, Brown had combined consistency with flair to cause the massive upset. But that was the exception, rather than the rule. If the match against Murray, and indeed his career path, is any indication, he has rarely been able to conjure that magical mix. He’s is 32 years old, has been on the pro tour since 2002, only reached a career-high ranking of 64 and hasn’t won any ATP singles titles. His win-loss record is 7-16 for the year, and 56-88 through his career. But Brown gives a distinct impression that winning is not his sole agenda.
It is difficult to say whether his flamboyance has kept him consistently in the top 100 or kept him from entering the top 50. Fortunately for us, it doesn’t look like he’s changing his ways any time soon.
Updated Date: Jul 06, 2017 11:33 AM