When Dustin Brown upset Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon

Five years ago, Dustin Brown stunned the tennis world when he beat Rafael Nadal in the second round at Wimbledon.

It was a fourth straight Wimbledon defeat for Nadal to an opponent ranked outside the top 100 – all of which came before the quarter-finals.

His other three shock exits came against Lukas Rosol in 2012, Steve Darcis in 2013, and Nick Kyrgios in 2014.

Prior to that, the Spaniard reached the final at Wimbledon every year he played from 2006 to 2011, winning the title in 2008 and 2010.

Brown had won the pair’s only previous meeting 6-4 6-1 on grass in the second round of Halle in 2014.

At Wimbledon 2013, the German beat 2002 champion Lleyton Hewitt to reach his only other Grand Slam third round.

The Scene Heading into the Match

Brown, 30 at the time, held an ATP ranking of #102 going into Wimbledon 2015.

After coming through qualifying without dropping a set, the German beat Lu Yen-hsun in four sets in the opening round of the main draw.

Prior to the tournament, Nadal had won the ATP 250 event in Stuttgart, a warm-up event on grass.

He then lost to Alexandr Dolgopolov in the first round of the Queen’s Club Championships.

Nadal was seeded 10th at Wimbledon, his lowest at a Major since being unseeded at the 2005 Australian Open.

The two-time champion, then 29, saw off Thomaz Bellucci in straight sets in the first round.

The Story of the Match

After the pair traded early breaks, comfortable service holds followed for both until Nadal was serving at 5-6.
Brown’s flat, aggressive returns earned him the break to take the opening set 7-5 on his Centre Court debut.

Nadal responded strongly, breaking twice and not facing a break point on his way to winning the second set 6-3.

Brown broke for 3-2 in the third set with a brilliant backhand drop volley winner, after two consecutive double faults by Nadal.

Nadal saved two break points to hold for 3-4, but Brown closed out the third set 6-4.

The German then broke in the opening game of set four, helped by two wayward Nadal forehand unforced errors.

Despite Nadal saving two match points serving at 3-5, Brown served it out convincingly – taking the set 6-4 to complete a remarkable victory.

Brown successfully utilised drop shots, aggressive returns and big second serves, but his net play was perhaps the key element.

The qualifier won 70 of his 95 serve and volley points (74%), and 98 of his 136 total net points (72%). (Stats from tennisabstract.com.)

His varied, attacking tactical approach contributed to taking time away from Nadal and disrupting his rhythm.

The Aftermath

Dustin Brown was unable to continue his Wimbledon run, falling to Viktor Troicki in the third round in four sets.

The German reached a career-high ranking of 64 in October 2016, but the Wimbledon win against Nadal remains his career highlight.

Nadal’s struggles continued as he lost in round three of the 2015 US Open to Fabio Fognini after leading by two sets to love.

After difficult 2015 and 2016 seasons, he has since had a strong resurgence – winning five Grand Slam titles from 2017 to 2019.

He has also improved at Wimbledon after missing the 2016 event through injury – reaching the semi-finals in 2018 and 2019, losing to Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer respectively.

This was after Nadal was edged out by Gilles Muller in an epic 2017 fourth round encounter.

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