#TeamDreddy: Get To Know Tennis’ Rising Star, Dustin Brown
Whenever a relatively unknown athlete defeats a well-established player and crowd favorite, the sports world uses the word “upset” when reporting the win. But make no mistake about it: There was nothing upsetting about Dustin Brown’s recent second-round win at Wimbledon against the former number one but currently 10th-seeded player and two-time Wimbledon champion, Rafael “Rafa” Nadal.
In the biggest win of his career, Brown, a 30-year-old loc-wearing phenom who hails from Germany and also grew up in his father’s homeland of Jamaica, has been referred to as unconventional. A big part of this label has to do with his looks. Similar to Venus and Serena Williams when they first stepped onto the tennis scene, crowds and announcers alike have been a little distracted by Brown’s locs, which he’s been growing for more than half of his life. Simply put, Brown doesn’t fit the outdated perception of what a tennis player in a grand slam tournament arena looks like.
Today we have uber-successful and respected players like Venus and Serena, Sloane Stephens, and Gael Monfils. We also cheered on the successful Black players before them who opened doors, from Althea Gibson to Yannick Noah and Arthur Ashe. But regardless of the times, these players have all operated in exclusive, traditionally white spaces that are still in need of diversity. They are players of a sport in which racism still rears its ugly, hateful head. Take for example Serena Williams’ experiences. She refused to play at Indian Wells for 14 years after being booed and racially terrorized by crowdgoers at the 2001 BNP Paribas Open. In an interview, Brown also spoke out on the racism he’s encountered, saying, “I stood out. And there were a lot of problems when I was younger, both at school and in the tennis world. A lot of people don’t talk about it for whatever reason, but racism was definitely around then, and still is now. Mostly, it’s fine, I’ve got used to it, but even nowadays it can be a problem.” But neither Williams nor Brown allowed these challenges, as well as overt or covert attempts to paint them as outsiders, to hold them back. And with the spotlight that his recent win afforded him, Brown, currently ranked number 102 in the world, can count himself among the game shifters further opening doors and challenging an ever-changing status quo.
Though his Wimbledon run came to an end in the third round after losing to Serbian player Viktor Troicki, Brown’s win against Nadal is major. Brown is the first unseeded player to beat Nadal at the grand slam level. And his triumph is undoubtedly a victory for up-and-coming players of color, particularly kids who can only benefit from seeing their likeness in him. All of this attention couldn’t have come at a better time. Last week was the 40th anniversary of Arthur Ashe’s historic win at Wimbledon. In 1975, Ashe became the first Black man to win the coveted tournament. A civil rights activist, he also famously protested apartheid in South Africa and became the first Black athlete to play in that country’s national tennis tournament. Brown, like other players before him, follows in Ashe’s legacy.
After slaying Nadal in four sets at Wimbledon, Brown told reporters he felt he had “nothing to lose.” It’s a motto he follows in his game, most evident in his strong serve and volley strategy. Sports Illustrated even referred to Brown as “a go-big or go-home kind of guy.” His confidence in his game is inspiring, and so is his story. Brown moved to Jamaica with his family in 1996 where he played juniors and then competed on the Futures circuit. He returned to Germany in 2004, turned pro, and drove himself from tournament to tournament throughout Europe for several years in a VW Camper bus that his parents purchased for him. All of this, Brown claims, made him the person he is today, both in terms of his tennis game and his personal character.
Both Brown’s win and personal story mean a lot for the sport of tennis, making the game that much richer and accessible. A role model with an unapologetic presence both on and off the court, we will no doubt see lots more from him. So if you’re not #TeamDreddy, what are you waiting for? A rising star, I wouldn’t be surprised if Brown’s locs have their own Twitter handle. (If they don’t, I’ll jump on that. You’re welcome. Or you can just follow him @DreddyTennis.) So no “upset” here. Dustin Brown is doing exactly what he set out to do, and all of us should thank him for it.