Wimbledon grass is increasingly looking more and more alien to the two time champion Rafael Nadal. For the fourth time in a row this year Nadal has been sent packing off the Centre Court by a player ranked outside the top 100. Add Dustin Brown to the list of Lukas Rosol, Steve Darcis and Nick Kyrgios who all carry the rare honor of beating Nadal on the lush greens when nobody gave them an off chance.
Dustin Brown doesn't necessarily rings a bell in the tennis circuits. He is at best a journeyman player on the tour, currently ranked 102 but have never gone over rank 78 and at age 30 is by no means an up and coming player either. Standing at 6 foot 4 with maybe the best hair on the ATP tour hanging freely up to his back, several piercings, tattoos and loose shorts Brown gave an air of nonchalance and reckless abandon. So does his game.
Brown started with booming serves, crisp volleys and well disguised (sometimes not so disguised too) drop shots drawing admiration from the crowd but quickly fell behind 1-3 in the first set. He looked like a player who could entertain but cannot sustain the intensity and ferocity that Nadal brings to the court. To add to that this was Brown's fifth match on grass along with the qualifiers that he has come through; was part of a doubles match yesterday only that went 10-8 in the fifth and was playing at the Centre Court for the first time; although he was 1 out of 1 against Rafa having beaten him at Halle last year 6-4, 6-1. This was best of five however.
Dustin Brown played his game from the word go; the extinct tennis of serve & volley, drop shots, a mix of power & soft hands - basically the tennis that fits the grass (or rather did when Sampras made his name). Going after Nadal's first serve Brown managed to win about 69% of the first serve points (surprising stat) on Nadal's serve in the first set, in the process making some astonishing shots. The strategy worked in the first set, did not so much in the second and the match was leveled. And then in the next two sets Nadal could not break him even once.
One of the features of his game was he put Nadal in uncharted territories throughout the course of the match; Nadal was made to run for drop shots, lobs, volleys while he would have liked to stay 6 feet behind the baseline to dictate the game, Despite the swinging passing shots that Rafa made and threatened to make Brown never made any change to his game plan. He continued to send down bullets, chip and charge onto them and had the quickness to respond at the net. The average second serve speed of Dustin Brown was about 20 mph higher than Nadal in this match.
At 5-3 in the fourth set he had his first match point (on Nadal's serve) which he lost to a floating ball that he left at the net which went on and dropped just inside the baseline. He had it on his racket and it could have been game changing. In the next game however he stepped up and held his serve to send Nadal home registering the greatest upset of the tournament and his greatest win ever. Call it inspiration, being good on a day, Nadal not being at his best or whatsoever but Dustin Brown looked every bit the player who could threaten anybody on grass with the way he played.
For Rafael Nadal, the grass has been the graveyard for the past four years but that shouldn't be a shocker. Grass being the way it plays is the surface that gives plenty of upset opportunities to players who play big. There could be a few more in the days to come.
Note: And so with all the speculations about the draw, this quarter becomes wide open with Nadal's loss and Ferrer's withdrawal for Andy Murray to grab without beating either of them.