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The overhead is one of the most straightforward shots in tennis, so straightforward it follows a script. You are standing not too far from the net. A ball is falling down to the court from way up above. Your job is to meet it with your racket over your head, and hard. The only real choice left to you is where to put it: pick out some doomed spot on the court, typically a corner, where your opponent cannot retrieve it. Not that they’re going to make much of an effort, anyway—by that point, the opponent has begun to go limp and mentally check out, realizing the death blow that awaits them, though they might feebly lunge in one direction just to keep up appearances. Merely having the opportunity for an overhead is a sign that your opponent has already done something wrong: a desperation chip blocked back too shallow, a lob severely undercooked. To strike an overhead is to carry out a mutually understood fate. Both parties know how this is supposed to go. Just put the ball away. Take out the trash. Go on with your day.

World No. 97 Dustin Brown has a very different brain, though. Brown sees something straightforward and looks for a way to bend it. He looks at the routine and finds something novel. He sees an overhead and, somehow, sees the opportunity for a dumpy drop shot. And thus a fresh, uniquely bad shot is brought into the world. Somewhere in the commentator’s box John McEnroe cackled in disbelief.

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But those who have watched plenty of Brown have learned to expect not just the unexpected but the beautifully ill-advised. Brown is a genuine innovator in dubious decision-making. Sometimes his shot choices pay off, and more times, over the churn of three or four sets, his luck fizzles out. Either way, this approach has made him one of the most watchable figures in tennis. For a brief stretch in his second-round match at Wimbledon against top seed Andy Murray, Brown seemed to have lulled his elite foe into playing his own capricious, telegenic style. Murray was well-suited for the part. For all their difference in terms of on-court success, they do share some of the same touch-based genius: Murray hits maybe the most effective lobs of anyone to ever play the game; Brown, if nothing else, hits the most entertaining. Both are fond of carving up a drop shot. Murray went on to win 6-3, 6-2, 6-2, but in the first set these two traded soft lobs and wanton drops in deeply strange exchanges that barely resemble competitive tennis, let alone Grand Slam play.

Here’s a representative sample. Your diverse menu:

  • A crackling backhand return, echoed by a crackling 95 mph backhand winner;
  • a forehand return struck just as fast;
  • the overhead drop shot in the center of the very weirdest point;
  • another sequence that both players seem to be refusing to win;
  • a white-hot ace off a second serve.

Andy Murray, a heady, anally retentive tactician who has studied and anticipated every opponent’s idiosyncrasy, said after the match that it had been “difficult to come up with game plans because you don’t know what they’re going to do.” There is truth to that. You never know what Dustin Brown is going to do. Sometimes he seems more in the mood for cardio than hitting winners. Sometimes he wants to return a serve as hard as his lank frame can physically muster. Sometimes he seems unwilling to do anything fiercer than gently nudge the ball over the net. At some point midway through the first set, the commentator glanced at a graphic and noted that Dustin Brown had hit more balls inside the service line than past it. How do you plan for someone like that, someone whose game follows no internal logic, who bucks the usual rhythms of the sport, whose every decision emerges from some unseen, underwater place? You don’t, really. You just sort of hang around until he fails.

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