Dustin Brown, 26, posts on his Facebook page: “Had some good practice, weather is nice, but still struggling with the time difference a bit”.

On the cardboard box practice courts at the SDAT tennis stadium at Nungambakkam, Brown, ranked 92 in the world, does not struggle. His feet hardly seem to leave the ground; not when he is serving, not when he is hitting an overhead winner at the net. Standing at 6'5'', he doesn't have to, half the while.

As is the case with most tall athletes, Dustin Brown appears to work without working — a style that commentators brand ‘lethargic' or ‘lazy elegance' depending on whether or not an attempted shot comes off and the point is won.

Periodically, he checks on himself, strapping and unstrapping a brace on his ankle between breathers. That is, of course, one of the last things you notice about Brown.

The Rastafarian dreadlocks, a clutch of amulets around his neck and a waspish forehand that often leaves his hitting partner Daniel Gremelmayr stranded, are more conspicuous. As are, if one looks for them, his bootlaces — flat strips of fettuccine, orange on his left shoe and electric green on his right, they are Brown's talisman.

Finding coloured laces in a bag at a Futures event in Spain, Brown decided to put them in his shoes if he reached the final of the tournament. He did. And the laces stayed.

The prop that is the centrepiece of Brown's story, however, is his camper van, which he drove around Europe, earning just enough to last him till the next (Futures) tournament.

“It's hard to finance everything playing tournaments in Europe. The camper made it possible. I played tournaments week in and week out and even if you play the Futures and lose in the first round you make a hundred dollars or euros and have enough money for the next week for gas and good food and that's how everything started,” he says.

Gas and good food. For half a decade or so, Brown played for little else. (“Oh my God, is it ever going to end” he used to wonder). Then last year, in his words, he ‘took off.' His ranking improved from somewhere in the 500s in 2008 to its current level over two seasons. Breaking into the top100 has its own advantages and Brown can kick with the big guys now.

“When you start winning a tournament like Chennai every week, I guess you are doing ok,” he smiles. Then perhaps the camper van can be retired.


Somdev hopes to break into the top 50December 31, 2010

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