In Los Angeles, and around the National Hockey League, there will be confusion about Friday morning’s headlines. They will say that Dustin Brown was a hero in a tennis tournament.
It will be true, but it is a different Dustin Brown, one who certainly has more hair than the Los Angeles Kings’ captain. A lot more hair.
On a wild Thursday afternoon, in front of a disbelieving Centre Court crowd at Wimbledon, a 102nd-ranked Brown — his long dreadlocks flowing like his wonderful grass-court game — stunned the legendary Rafael Nadal.
The drama was thick enough to cut with a knife.
Nadal, trailing two sets to one, and serving at 3-5, faced two match points.
Even then, the crowd believed he would somehow escape. This was, after all, only the second round of men’s singles; he was, after all, seeded 10th and had never lost to a qualifier in 20 previous Grand Slam matches.
And he was, after all, a 14-time Grand Slam champion with perhaps the highest resolve to fight to the end of any in the history of the game .
But Brown was the one in control, and when he attacked the net at 15-40, he was one volley, one flick of his wrist, from actually finishing this on Nadal’s serve. The ball floated to Brown’s right. He started to pull the trigger, then pulled back. Nadal’s shot landed inches inside the baseline. One match point saved .
“I saw his backhand come up a little bit,” Brown said. “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.”
He had handed the keys to the handcuffs to an escape artist.
And when Nadal aced him to save the second match point and hit two forehands to hold, Brown’s once-in-a-lifetime moment seemed in jeopardy.
That seemed even more so when he double-faulted on his first point while serving for the match at 5-4.
“Worst double fault of the match,” Brown said. “Hit the bottom of the net.”
But this time, this moment, this incredible memory and achievement for a man born in Germany to a German mother and a Jamaican father whose portrait is tattooed on Brown’s stomach, was not to slip away.
Bang, bang, 40-15, and then a closing ace.
The only player to have won nine titles at one major tournament, the French Open, and who has won the title at Wimbledon twice — despite grass not being his best surface — had been taken down by a player who has won just $1,344,996 in 13 years on the tour.
In pro tennis, that’s almost poverty level.
The final score was 7-5, 3-6, 6-4, 6-4.
Nadal, to his credit, made no excuses. He has now lost early at Wimbledon every year since he lost in the 2011 final. He also has been in five finals.
“Accept the defeat and congratulate my opponent,” he said, “and that’s it.”
Brown, who met the media in a huge yellow stocking cap that covered his long hair, said he was lucky to get this shot on the fast grass surface, his favorite. He now holds a 2-0 record against Nadal, the other victory also coming on grass a year ago in a Wimbledon lead-in tournament at Halle, Germany.
“This obviously is a surface that makes it easier to play my type of game,” Brown said.
He hit 13 aces, hit many serves in the low 130s (miles per hour) and approached the net 184 times, winning 120 of those points.
Nadal said Brown’s style was just too much to overcome, and too contrasting to his.
“You cannot have mistakes against a player like him, with that big serve,” he said. “Without having rhythm at all. I didn’t hit three balls in a row the same way.”
Follow Bill Dwyre on Twitter @DwyreLATimes