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Thursday, July 2, 2015

The Wimbledon 2015 Thread For 6/2/15: Van Diagram - How Dustin Brown's Win Over Nadal Validates His Tennis Odyssey

Photo from ATP/Getty Images

When Dustin Brown was riding in a Volkswagen van throughout Europe a few years ago, it seemed being an unknown tennis nomad would define his career. All the characteristics as an itinerant player with modest accomplishments was firmly in the script for him, coming from a country in Jamaica who supported him less than the number of people who don’t know who Bob Marley is there. 

Brown would always be known as the man in the van, the van that his white German mother and black Jamaican father invested for him when he needed to somehow survive in tennis. It was the van that served as his house and kitchen. It was the van that created a racquet stringing center for him to take care of fellow lower ranked players’ sticks as they too were on the precipice of homelessness. It was the van that had him wondering, when he was stuck in a world of doubt and second guessing, if continuing the tennis odyssey he set himself on since the age of 8 was worth continuing at all? 

After an afternoon in which he stepped onto the hollowed Centre Court grounds for the first time in his career, at the most hollowed tennis tournament on Earth, Dustin Brown of both Germany and Jamaica defeated Rafael Nadal for the second time in as many encounters to secure the biggest win of his career. Suffice to say, the time in the van and the sacrifice that came from it all was worth it. 

“I’ve never been on the court before,” Brown said after his 7-5, 3-6, 6-4, 6-4. “They asked me before the match if I wanted to go on the court, and obviously I didn’t know what was going to happen, so I’ll just go on when I play. It was awkward where I actually thought I would freak out a little bit.” 

Even before the result that got his name as the #1 trending topic on Twitter, Brown knew that he long validated going through the intense adversity of being a peripatetic, unheralded tennis player. He hasn’t lived in that Volkswagen van for a while now, and he has been able to get into Grand Slam fields now for several years, whether through direct entry into the main draw or the pressurized grind of qualifying he is well accustomed to. He beat Lleyton Hewitt two years ago at Wimbledon. He beat Nadal last year in Halle, along with John Isner in Houston. He was already a Top 50 ATP doubles player. Even if he lost triple bagel to the 12-time Grand Slam champion, Brown had fulfilled his parents’ sacrifice years’ ago, as well as his own. It’s why from 2-2 on in the third set, he did not wilt when it seemed like Nadal would ride the wave of capturing the second set and taking over the match. Instead, Brown stuck to the style that got him to where he was at before the famous victory and now after it. 

Using his unpredictable, athletic, fast and powerful all-court game to not get in protracted rallies with Nadal and keep him off balance, Brown became the fourth straight early round stopper at Wimbledon for Nadal. It wasn’t like the magic man from Mallorca wasn’t fully prepared to make the ultra quick transition from clay to grass as in recent years. With his Roland Garros quarterfinal loss to Novak Djokovic, Nadal was given unofficial extra time along with the additional week now in between the French Open and Wimbledon for everyone. And after winning the first grass warmup in Stuttgart, the legendary lefty was determined to make a resurgent run. But it was yet another moment in sports where the profession doesn’t adhere to a cliche, similar script. And if ever there was a player that follows that characteristic through and through, Brown is indeed just the one.  

“Whatever I do was to take him out of his comfort zone,” Brown said about his successful strategy against Nadal. “(If) I stayed in the back and rallied with him, left right, that would not be a very good match for me. I know that. So obviously I tried to play my game, even if I missed a few returns. On this surface, obviously I feel confident to play my game.”  

Brown showcased in his post match media engagement afterwards his pensive persona, a requirement for how he had to manage food and money throughout his tennis journey (and still does). It is a stark contrast from his loose, flashy and sometimes uncontrolled style of play, representing a fitting combination to a person whose story is as multi dimensional as the game he plays.  

The 30-year-old could have given up his playing dream and found himself a second career, in coaching or doing something outside of tennis. He could have been deterred after seeing many criticize his inability to be consistent with his tactics, shot selection or accuracy. He could have   succumbed to the belief from some, in his fathers’ country and throughout, that “Jamaican men don’t play tennis.” All of these things the man affectionately known as Dreddy Tennis could have predictably done. But he did not. 


July 2 was another reminder that there isn’t anything predictable about Dustin Brown. His tale is arguably the most unique you will ever find in tennis, and one that would challenge any other in sports. “The man with the van” has long outlived that title. And for at least one match, Dustin Brown can have the title of just simply, the man

A video posted by Drew Jones (@twdbk) on
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