Rafael Nadal became the highest-profile casualty of this year’s Wimbledon after slumping to a 7-5 3-6 6-4 6-4 defeat to dreadlocked German Dustin Brown.
Tenth seed Nadal, the 2008 and 2010 champion in SW19, lost his only previous encounter with Brown on grass in Halle last year and he fell to the flamboyant world number 102 once again.
Brown’s unconventional style included shots that will not be found in any tennis coaching manual, but it made for a thrilling spectacle against the out-of-form Spaniard, who had been a possible quarter-final opponent for Andy Murray.
“I’ve never been on Centre Court before. I thought I’d freak out a bit, but I felt very familiar here,” Brown said.
“Being on grass and having beaten him before made me feel more comfortable. I had nothing to lose, which made it easier for me. I went for my shots. My plan was to come here and play good tennis.
“You have to play your A-game when you’re playing against him. I’m very lucky in that I’ve played him twice on my favourite surface. I wouldn’t want to play him on any other surface.”
Centre Court spectators were torn between cheering the ever-popular Nadal, an enduring favourite, or the showman Brown who revealed a large tattoo of reggae singer Dennis Brown on his torso when changing his top.
Instead, the crowd chose to savour a roller-coaster second-round tie that produced drama throughout, even when Brown was building momentum in the final two sets.
Nadal, supported from the stands by compatriot and actor Antonio Banderas, broke serve early but by in the sixth game Brown was back on equal terms thanks to a series of winners that ended with a forehand smash.
The rivals were separated in the 12th when Nadal’s serve was exploited once again, Brown delivering on the second of two set points after smart work at the net outmanoeuvred the Spaniard.
A pumped-up Brown roared as he produced an ace, but he was broken in a hard fought third game of the second set as a thrilling match continued to unfold.
Nadal was repeatedly forced to dig deep, but by the time the ninth game had arrived he was in full flow with successive forehand and then backhand that hugged the line.
Brown made an odd attempt at improvisation when he squatted down to return with the full face of his racket, but his willingness to attack the net in the same game enabled him to break and he clinched the third set.
Nadal continued to wilt as the fourth set began and shortly after Brown sent a brilliant two-handed backhand down the line, he was broken again.
Two match points were saved in the ninth game but a further two arrived in the 10th and Brown completed the biggest win of his career with an ace.