Wimbledon: The first Jamaican man to play at Wimbledon in four decades feels neglected in his country, and said on Tuesday he deserved a glimmer of the domestic fame enjoyed by compatriot Usain Bolt.
"He probably has no idea that I exist," German-born Dustin Brown said of the Olympic gold-medalist sprinter and world-record holder in the 100 and 200 meters.
Brown, who sports dreadlocks, bright yellow wristbands and an unorthodox forehand lice, lost in his Grand Slam debut to French Open semifinalist Jurgen Melzer of Austria. Despite the 6-3, 4-6, 6-2, 6-3 scoreline, it was a triumph for the 25-year-old Brown, who broke into the top 100 last month after traveling for years to European tournaments in a camper van so he could save on expenses.
Still, the match didn't yield an outburst of patriotic pride. Brown played Davis Cup for Jamaica in 2002 but hasn't visited since 2007, and said he would even consider playing for Britain because of a British grandparent on his father's side.
"No funds, no coaching, no help," was his summary of his relationship with Jamaican tennis officials. Equally galling, he said, was a message he received from the federation
president congratulating him for a wild card entry into Wimbledon. Brown got into the tournament after injury pullouts on the strength of his ranking, which reached a high of 99 on May 17 and slipped back to 105.
Phillip Gore, the president of Jamaican tennis, said the federation wanted to work with Brown despite its limited resources, but he had spurned their efforts.
"This young man is unfortunately going around badmouthing us and we're tired of it," said Gore, who added that the association was checking whether it needed to apologize for the message about the wild card.
The last Jamaican man to play at Wimbledon was Richard Russell in 1970. He failed to qualify in 1972. Russell was also the last Jamaican man to appear in a Grand Slam tournament, losing in the second round in the French Open in 1974.
Brown, who has a Jamaican father and German mother, moved to Jamaica as a boy but returned in 2004 to Germany, which he used as a base to battle on the low-level circuit of
professional tennis. He considers himself "clean down the middle" when it comes to feeling German or Jamaican. He's punctual, German-style.
"I'm always actually on time, and I hate people that are late," said Brown, who speaks fluent German. "The clock on my phone is always 10 minutes ahead so I don't get anywhere late."
Brown's career took off in 2008, and he won his first challenger title in Uzbekistan and reached four other finals last year. Another highlight was advancing to the quarterfinals of the ATP event in Johannesburg this year.
He is exploring all options about his tennis future, and they include Britain if its tennis officials approach him about playing for the team.
"If they're interested, then they have to step towards me," he said. "Because just changing my nationality now and getting a British passport is not going to solve the problem."
He acknowledged that representing Jamaica was special because it doesn't have a lot of good players, making him the standout.
“Going to a tournament and you see the Jamaican flag, OK, it's there for me and not for another 20 guys," he said. "So that's definitely a nice thing."
Russell once spearheaded a private-sector plan to back the careers of Brown and his own son, Ryan, with USD 300,000 over three years. In return, they would have had to funnel 80 per cent of their earnings into a fund to develop promising Jamaican players.
Brown rejected the proposal. He was also bitter because he felt he had been "overlooked" by Jamaican officials who, in any case, did not have the money to promote players at a
regional level, Russell said.
Yet he said Brown's Wimbledon showing reflected "his ability to overcome all odds."
Jamaica has 32 sports associations, all of which vie for the same pool of government funding. Canadian tennis officials have helped train Jamaican coaches, and the federation has started tennis programs in 20 schools over the past five years. But it struggles to finance player trips to Davis Cup ties.
First Published: Tuesday, June 22, 2010, 17:40