Flashy Dustin Brown’s victory celebrations are a crowd-pleasing sight with his mop of dreadlocks, fist pumps and racket swirling above his head like a lasso to screams of “komm jetzt!” – the German equivalent for “C’mon”.
But the wild reactions used throughout his tussle with former Wimbledon champion Lleyton Hewitt on Wednesday were nowhere to be seen when the 189th-ranked Jamaican-German qualifier sealed a 6-4, 6-4, 6-7(3), 6-2 victory and arguably the most impressive win of his career.
When one final Hewitt forehand sailed long it was a subdued Brown who broke down in tears realising the significance of his breakthrough, a far cry from his well-documented days travelling Europe in a camper van to play Challenger events.
“It’s going to take this a while to sink in,” an emotional Brown said afterwards. “I’m not normally the kind of guy to cry. I’m playing Lleyton Hewitt, a guy you grow up watching.”
Coming into the match Brown had not won an ATP Tour match this year while the 32-year-old Australian was coming off an impressive first-round upset of Swiss 11th seed Stanislas Wawrinka and a strong semi-final showing at Queen’s, where he took out Grigor Dimitrov, Sam Querrey and world No.8 Juan Martin del Potro.
The 28-year-old Brown had claimed only one main draw match at a major – the 2010 US Open – and would have been forgiven for letting his notoriously shaky concentration wander on Court No.2, where a vocal contingent of Australian supporters rose to sing the national anthem as the players strolled on.
“The Aussie crowd was amusing,” he laughed. “That’s what the sport is about. I’ve played the Australian Open before so I knew what was going to come. He’s a national hero over there.”
For the first two sets, Brown’s heavy forehand and serve barely looked like missing and his touch at net was impervious, Hewitt time and time again scrambling to get a racket to his gifted opponent’s short shots.
“Yeah, well, his half-volley pick-ups, drop shot half-volleys, low volleys were pretty good. His hands, he had pretty good control on tough shots out there,” Hewitt said.
“Yeah, he's obviously got great reach. So it's very hard to obviously lob him. But hitting a passing shot as well. When the ball is skidding through a little bit, it's not easy, as well, because he does get pretty close to the net and obviously covers it well.”
Brown only once looked like faltering. Up 3-1 in the third set tie-break, a typically inspired Hewitt lifted, riding the crowd support to take six straight points and steal the set.
But the 2002 champion’s comeback was short-lived. Brown broke early in the fourth at 2-1 to snap his opponent’s momentum and never took his foot off the pedal, breaking again before serving it out 6-2.
“Believing you can do it and actually doing is two very different things. This is the first time it actually went through,” Brown said.
“[I thought] If I end up losing this in five sets then so be it. It made it a lot easier knowing I was playing Lleyton Hewitt. Even being up two sets to love was a great result.”
Hewitt was left to rue a missed opening in the draw having taken out Wawrinka.
With seeds Rafael Nadal and John Isner also out, Brown’s fortunes are looking up as he meets 111th-ranked Frenchman Adrian Mannarino for a place in the fourth round.
While he hung up the keys on his camper van travels four years ago, a new set of wheels could well be on the cards. “I still have the van. It's parked in Germany at my parents' place,” he said.
He’ll hardly need it with a guaranteed £63,000 for his third-round showing.
20:24...But boy, it was a barrow-load of fun. I hope you enjoyed it even half as much as we did. Thank you for all your messages throughout, you've been the glue holding us together as the edges frayed amid the madness. Now if you'll excuse me, it's time for us Brits to raise a toast to Andy Murray and Fred Perry. British sporting legends both.
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