The fact that tennis is pointing to Nick Kyrgios as an example of the sort of personality that the men’s game needs is evidence enough that Dustin Brown has been gone too long. The German is a player like no other, relying on a thrilling mixture of deft touch and sudden power to better his opponents. He is the diving volley, the drop-shot winner off return and the tweener. He is tennis perhaps not as it should be played, but certainly as it wants to be.
He has twice beaten Rafael Nadal, both times on grass. The first was at Halle in the second round in 2014 when he demolished the great Spaniard for the loss of just two games. The second was more impressive still. It came on the hallowed lawns of the All England Club in the round of 64 in 2015. The Centre Court crowd had heard of Dustin Brown, and they came eager to see how long his all-action style of play could resist the relentless power and energy of Rafael Nadal.
Nadal may have been wounded, dethroned in Paris for the first time since 2009 and without an appearance in the second week at Wimbledon since 2011. But he was still Nadal. The king of clay. A competitor without equal even in this golden age of men’s tennis. A man who will retire with utterly unassailable records, the equal of two of the greatest men ever to lift a tennis racquet. And Dustin Brown beat him handily, 7-5 3-6 6-4 6-4.
It was a performance that showed Brown at his very best. Nadal had no answer to his variety. Brown’s shot choices may not have been playing the percentages, but when they landed they were unanswerable. He could hit clean winners from almost anywhere on the court and he had cat-like reflexes at the net. He combined the modern athleticism of tennis with the guile and court craft of ages past. In short, he was box-office.
That is not to say he was always successful. He played Andy Murray twice and was hammered on both occasions, losing to the Briton 5-7 3-6 0-6 in New York in 2010 before being dismissed again at Wimbledon in 2017, 3-6 2-6 2-6. In his only meeting with Novak Djokovic, he won just two games, falling to a 2-6 2-6 defeat on the hard courts at the Qatar Open in 2016. There are flaws in the Brown game that can be exposed. There is a reason most players do not choose to emulate his style.
But we should be grateful that some do. Brown plays a brand of tennis that never fails to excite and, as a result, he is popular wherever he plays. He feels constantly on the edge of both disaster and triumph. There is no doubt that he can ‘treat those two impostors just the same’. He plays explosively and expressively, displaying real personality on the rarest, yet arguably most prestigious surface on the sport.
His latest exploit on the grass was an impressive upset of top seed and world #5 Alexander Zverev at the Stuttgart Open. Zverev had been playing some fine tennis in recent weeks after a difficult first half of the season and won the title at the Geneva Open, before reaching the quarterfinals at the French Open (lost to Djokovic). But despite a valiant effort, he ultimately had no answer to his countryman in Stuttgart.
Brown, who has been restricted by a back injury since 2017, came through the qualifying by beating Denis Istomin and Gregoire Barrere in straight sets to earn a first-round match up with John Millman. He beat the US Open quarterfinalist 6-4 7-6 to reach the second round, where he faced Zverev. Understandably, many had suggested this would be a tough test for the top seed, and so it proved. Brown took the match to Zverev from the first point and the world #5 ultimately couldn’t cope.
There is no doubt that Zverev is a good player. He may not have shown his best tennis at the Majors, but he is formidable. His time in the limelight will come. But Brown showed in Stuttgart why tennis fans across the globe were right to love him. His game is thrilling to watch, an application of fearless of attacking tennis with exactly the right attitude: a love of the game for it’s own sake. And his win was a welcome reminder that even in this era of great champions, a wild card, in the truest sense, can still make some noise.
Embed from Getty Images