It’s becoming part of Wimbledon tradition, Rafael Nadal losing to a low ranked player. Following in the footsteps of other triple-digit ranked players to beat Nadal on Wimbledon’s Centre Court, yesterday qualifier Dustin Brown made his debut on the most famous court in tennis and stunned Rafa 75, 36, 64, 64.
Brown now leads Nadal 2-0 in their head-to-head after also beating the Spaniard in Halle last year 64, 61.
In the 2-hour, 34-minute match, Brown won 71 of 99 serve and volley points, taking Nadal out of his baseline rhythm.
Born in Germany, the 30-year-old Brown entered the afternoon with just four career Grand Slam match wins and just 33 tour level wins in 13 years as a pro tennis player.
Brown’s opportunity continues tomorrow against Serb Viktor Troicki.
Brown talked about the big win afterward.
Q. When you came off court, John McEnroe described your performance as one of the all-time greats that he’s ever seen here at Wimbledon of a low-ranked player playing on Centre Court. How would you describe your performance out there today?
DUSTIN BROWN: He just said that to me, I did a radio interview with him also. He said the same thing to me. It’s a great feeling for him to say that obviously, you know, from the generation that was playing like that, playing serve and volley, coming to the net a lot. It was great to be able to do that today and do it for that long.
I knew what the plan was because I played against him in Halle before. Obviously he’s a great tennis player. Knowing that the grass might be a little slower than in Halle, obviously doing it over best-of-five sets is a different situation than doing it only best-of-three.
Q. Your return game is really interesting and unusual for the tour these days in terms of dropshots, aggressive returns. Talk about your approach when returning serve against Nadal.
DUSTIN BROWN: Well, the point is whatever I do is to take him out of his comfort zone. If I would stay in the back and rally with him left, right, that would not be a very good match for me. I know that. Obviously I try to play my game.
Even if I miss a few returns or whatever, it’s also good if he doesn’t get that many hits and obviously doesn’t get into a rhythm. The second set there, he got into it a little bit, and that was very difficult for me because, you know, you know you got to put the volley on a dime in the corner. Even then he still passed me. I had to say, Okay, that is too good, concentrate on the serve and put more on it.
Q. As you think about your accomplishment, what goes through your mind about Rafa’s career and legacy?
DUSTIN BROWN: That’s a very difficult question.
Obviously he’s one of the best players of the sport, and for me, being able to play against him twice, obviously on my favorite surface, is probably my luck. I mean, I wouldn’t want to play him on clay or hard court because obviously it would make playing my type of tennis even more difficult.
I’m happy I got to play him on that court win or lose. All the kids that play tennis dream about being able to play on that Centre Court. Playing against him there is special. Also being able to put that performance together, it was definitely very difficult and I’m very happy that I held it together for the whole match.
Q. You have a very stunning tattoo. Tell us about it.
DUSTIN BROWN: It’s a portrait of my dad. I got it last year in April, I think. I’ve always wanted to have a tattoo. I have the portrait of my dad at home in my bedroom, also. I don’t get to see him that often. Normally in the off-season.
Yeah, it’s been a very long road for me and my whole family. That’s one of the things I’ve been wanting to do for a very long time and I had the opportunity to do that with a great tattoo artist in Cologne in Germany last year.
Q. What did you feel when you went up to serve for the match?
DUSTIN BROWN: Obviously I would have preferred to have broken, not having to go and serve again. Going to the net at 15-40 after that forehand, okay, I said, Try to hit a decent volley. I saw his backhand come up a little bit. I thought it was going to fly long. When I turned around and saw it drop on the line, I was like, Oh, please, no.
Then he hit very good serves, an ace and two service winners. I’m like, Okay, fine, if this is what’s going to happen, I end up losing. I’m definitely going to try and play as aggressive as possible, which I didn’t do on my first serve. It was the worst double-fault in the whole match in the bottom of the net.
After that I was like, okay, no matter what, I’ve served for a lot of matches and for a lot of sets this year, which I’ve already lost. I said, Definitely be aggressive, go out there. The next double-fault, if I hit some, they’re going to be fast and long.
Q. You’re being appreciated for your exploits on the court as opposed to being the only Rasta involved in the game. How does that make you feel?
DUSTIN BROWN: I am the way I am. I’ve been like this all my life. Obviously it’s great that people appreciate it. But on the other side, if I would worry too much about what people think about everything I do, then I wouldn’t have the hair and probably definitely wouldn’t look the way I look.
Q. The first set was an epic contest that you very much deserved to win. How did you mentally cope with the fact that possibly the third and fourth sets were a bit easier for you to win? Was that difficult to cope with mentally?
DUSTIN BROWN: First of all, I was trying to play. Everyone tells you play point by point, play point by point. Definitely it was not that easy. I would say it was not easy, because playing him is not easy. Even the match in Halle wasn’t easy because I was playing really well, and trying to keep that together for such a long time, and trying not to think about what just happened out there and what I need to keep doing to win the match.
I had a game plan. Obviously the same one I had last time when I played. When I got that break in the beginning, I was a little bit too passive on the volleys and tried to go for too much because I know he’s a great player. If he gets any chance, most likely he’s going to pass me, especially off the forehand side.
That game where he broke me, he hit a really good lob off a decent volley where I thought I would be pretty good in the point. I tried to stay out there, play aggressive. I realized I had chances on the return games, and that’s what I tried to focus on.
Q. You said to me something that was very interesting. You said, I am the way I am. Could you take a moment and explain what you meant by that and also could you reflect on all those years in the Volkswagen camper, what those experiences were like.
DUSTIN BROWN: Well, obviously all of that has made me to the person I am, tennis-wise and also as a person and as a character. And I guess all that led to this day today, which is obviously a great day, probably the best day of my life so far.
It’s difficult when people ask me that about myself because for me it’s normal. I could be sitting here and saying, Why are you guys all different? It’s a difficult question.
I’ve been like this. I’m not trying to be a certain way. That is how I am, and always have been. Obviously playing this sport, have to adapt a few things to be able to play the sport. But I try not to change myself too much while I’m doing that.
Q. Do you feel this coming, this level of success, maybe not beating Rafa on Centre Court, but the form that you have now?
DUSTIN BROWN: Well, I know that on the faster surfaces, I’m very dangerous. Obviously I prefer to play on the faster surfaces. Was excitement for me when I heard sometime last year that they’re going to extend the grass court season, obviously not expecting this.
But I had a very tough matches this year already, playing in the States, having match points, losing 7-6 a few times in the third set. I was really looking forward to this stretch of tournaments.
After French Open I took some time off. I took a week off. Didn’t do anything. Went to see my girlfriend in the States. Just relaxed a little bit and tried to get my head fresh for the grass court season. Played quallies in Stuttgart, was able to play three good matches there, then lost against Janowicz. A tight one, but still have the feeling I played really well.
Then won a good first round match again against my friend Haider-Maurer in Halle. Until 5-All in the first set, I think I played really well against Kei. To be honest, he was better at that point. He turned up a switch. I don’t know what it was, how he did it, but he was hitting returns, he was hitting passing shots. I was just looking outside to the box, Okay, if he’s going to keep doing it like this, it’s going to be done really quickly. It was after that.
I lost two matches on grass, but I had the feeling I was playing well. Obviously I would had hoped to be in the main draw with one or two, end up with being in quallies. With a little short notice, I came on Saturday, yeah, just tried to prepare as good as possible. Having that match in the first round against Ungur, showed me that even though I lost to Kei, yeah, he played unbelievable that day. I didn’t play bad. So that’s what I also realized coming into quallies and playing that unbelievable match against Ungur in the first set.
Q. You said that you would much prefer to play Rafa on grass compared to the clay. Is that a feeling overall for the guys in the locker room, playing Rafa on grass compared to any of the other surfaces?
DUSTIN BROWN: That you would have to ask the other players. I think it depends on the player. Not everyone would like to play Rafa on grass either. If I would have to stay back and rally with him on the grass, I wouldn’t want to play with him on the grass either. This obviously is a surface that makes it easier to play my type of game that I want to play.
On that given day, you have to put it together, which I have done twice now. But that doesn’t mean that I will play him next time and it will happen again, no matter if it’s grass or any other surface or even if we would come up with a surface that would be faster.
Obviously it makes it a lot easier for me to play my game, take time away from him, let him hit shots that he doesn’t normally have to play.
Yeah, from the baseline he’s one of the best guys out there. With his forehand, yeah, you put the ball in the court when it comes back, the point is done.
Q. A lot of players, their personalities get expressed in their games, the way they play. How do you think that your personality is expressed through your tennis? What can we see about you in the way you play the sport?
DUSTIN BROWN: Well, it’s the same thing a little bit like the question before. I don’t know obviously how it looks from the outside because I don’t see myself play. Obviously when we watch matches it’s like, Okay, that’s a good shot, maybe that was stupid. That is how I am. That’s what makes me dangerous, especially on these surfaces.
It took a while for me to learn to know that I can win a match like this on a given day, but I can also play a shocking match.
I had a quarterfinals in a Rome challenger, and it was actually to be direct main draw for Wimbledon. I don’t know what I did out there, but it was terrible. I think I lost 1-2. I was done within the hour.
I guess the main thing for me is to accept that my game has that span, and that’s the things I need to accept and know what I need to be doing on the court and do that. Either I win or I lose.
Q. Do you think other players don’t want to play you?
DUSTIN BROWN: Hopefully (smiling).
On this surface, when I go out there, obviously I’m confident that I can play my game. But then I said, again, I lost the match against Janowicz who started serving too good. I lost against Kei. Obviously I am not unbeatable on this surface, but it comes more natural playing on this, especially with my type of game.
Yeah, what other players think, no one has said anything to me obviously, but I know that I can play really well on this. I’m looking forward to the next match.
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