When the two-time champion lost to Dustin Brown 7-5 3-6 6-4 6-4 in the second round on Center Court Wednesday, it marked the fourth time in a row he had fallen to a player ranked 100th or lower at the All England Club.
In this case, Brown — a dreadlocked German with Jamaican ancestry who once traveled around Europe in a camper van to keep his career going — was a 102nd-ranked qualifier. But he did have history of beating Nadal, last year at a Wimbledon warmup event in Halle.
Brown, 6-foot-5, is far from orthodox. He serves and volleys relentlessly, slaps forehands and attempts more than a few drop shots. It mostly all worked, to Nadal’s dismay.
“If I would stay back and rally with him left, right, that would not be a very good match for me,” Brown, who sports a tattoo of his dad on his left side, told reporters. “Obviously I try to play my game.”
Nadal said he entered Wimbledon in a positive frame of mind, or at least better than what he had felt for much of this season, even after he lost in the quarterfinals at the French Open — a tournament he has won a record nine times — and dropped in the rankings.
He triumphed at an event in Germany to begin his grass-court campaign, but was seeded a lowly 10th in southwest London.
“It’s not the end,” vowed Nadal, the 14-time grand slam winner. “It’s a sad moment for me … but life continues. My career, too. “I have to keep going and working more than ever to try to change that dynamic.”
Lukas Rosol, then the world No. 100, eliminated Nadal in the second round in 2012; Steve Darcis, then ranked 135th, sent the Spaniard packing in the first round in 2013; and Nick Kyrgios, at the time the world No. 144, knocked him out in the fourth round last year.
This season it was Brown’s turn.
“All the kids that play tennis dream about being able to play on that Center Court,” said Brown. “Playing against him there is special. “Also, being able to put that performance together, it was definitely very difficult and I’m very happy that I held it together for the whole match.”
Brown — a grass-court specialist if ever there was one — knocked off his second Wimbledon champion in London.
After the 30-year-old produced an angled ace on his third match point, he emulated his feat of 2013 when he downed Lleyton Hewitt — like Nadal a former world No. 1, too. Brown hit 13 aces altogether Thursday and won nearly 80% of his first-serve points. Things didn’t start well for Brown, though. He trailed by an early break.
Reversing the deficit made for an obvious turning point in the first set. “After losing the first set, you are under pressure the rest of the match,” said Nadal.
A more subtle shift allowed Brown to recover in the third and ultimately take control.
With Nadal holding the momentum, the Mallorcan failed to take advantage of a creaking Brown in the latter’s opening service game. He paid the price in the fifth game, broken a point after hitting two double faults in a row.