Dustin Brown (above) tested Andy Murray early in Friday's second-rounder, but the Scot got the hang of Brown's booming serve and rolled to the win. (AP)
The length of center court at Ashe Stadium runs 78 feet, but the gulf between Andy Murray and Dustin Brown is even greater. The two met there on Friday afternoon under a slate-gray sky and whipping winds for a second-round match that proved a study in contrasts.
Murray, you know. Ranked fourth in the world, the 23-year-old Brit is still seeking his first Grand Slam title -- a fact his impatient countrymen remind him of every day. He was the bridesmaid in the ’08 U.S. Open final and came close to a major breakthrough yet again in this year’s Australian Open, succumbing both times to Roger Federer. Still, Murray did beat Rafael Nadal along the way, and the Scot’s occasional success against the topspin-loving lefty -- who is on his side of the draw again here in Queens -- gives him favorable odds of playing for a major title again.
Brown, however, is largely unknown. Two years ago, the 25-year-old Jamaican was barnstorming Europe with his German mother, Inge, in a Volkswagen camper van hoping to break even in Challenger tournaments. He says that was his shortest route to the big-time from Jamaica, the native country of his father, Leroy, and Dustin’s home since 1996. (Before that Dustin lived in Germany.) A strong 2009 campaign on the Challenger circuit provided Brown a mighty tailwind: In June, he stole a set off of Austria’s Jurgen Melzer at Wimbledon. In July, he beat Sam Querrey at Newport to claim his first victory over a top 20 player, and that helped catapult him to a career-high 98th in the rankings.
On Friday, as Damian Marley’s “Welcome to Jamrock” blared over the stadium speakers, Brown took center stage with Murray, and their clash of styles made for quite the show. Where Murray was the clean-cut picture of British reserve in a royal blue Fred Perry polo, white shorts and matching shoes, Brown was the epitome of Jamaican self-expression with his free flowing dreads, turquoise argyle shorts, sleeveless white tee and mismatched neon shoelaces (green on the right, orange on the left).
His free-spiritedness was matched by an even freer swing. With a low toss and a compact motion, Brown smoked two aces past the befuddled Brit in the second game that were met with immediate challenges. (Murray lost both.) Brown held at love and used a spin-heavy dropshot and a deft lob to keep Murray off-balance. Equally off-putting was Brown’s habit for standing during changeovers. (“I feel that when I sit down that my pulse and everything just goes down,” Brown said afterward. “So I just don’t do it.”)
Brown stayed even with Murray through the first 10 games, maintaining his composure during an early rain delay that lasted 25 minutes. But in the 12th game, Murray wrested control. Finally able to read Brown’s serve, Murray used deep returns to break Brown in that game and baseline-pinning groundstrokes to reel off wins in the next six. From there Murray cruised, extending rallies and tracking down Brown’s once-elusive touch shots on the way to a 7-5, 6-3, 6-0 win. Afterward, the two men trudged off of center court and back onto their separate paths. Brown returns to the fringes with more money ($18,000) than he’s ever gotten to leave a tournament and little pressure on his shoulders. (Jamaicans have track, soccer and cricket to distract them after all.) Murray, with more than $12 million in career earnings, has a third-round match with Stanislas Wawrinka in his sights and the weight of an anxious nation on his back. Meanwhile fans -- thanks to this match -- now have new reason to mind the gap.