Before becoming the LSU men’s tennis coach 17 years ago, Jeff Brown created an impressive résumé of his own.
As a player, he captained the Tigers’ 1988 NCAA Finals team, reached 100 career wins and was awarded All-Southeastern Conference and All-American honors.
The Gainesville, Fla., native spent only five years away from the LSU program since graduating, but those five years manifested memories Brown still dawns upon today.
Brown teamed up with Scott Melville, a former college All-American from USC, and the duo tried their luck on the Association of Tennis Professionals circuit in 1989.
After competing in a number of small events, Brown and Melville qualified for the New Haven Volvo International Tournament in 1990, a tournament that would change their lives forever.
The duo entered the tournament ranked 400th in the world. The pair won match after match, beating stars like Andrés Gómez and Patrick McEnroe, setting the finals match against the 1990 French Open
runner-up team of Goran Ivanišević and Petr Korda.
“We were starstruck when we were playing them,” Brown said. “Plus, it was a million dollar event back then. It was a really weird deal.”
Brown and Melville pulled off an improbable victory, winning 2–6, 7–5, 6–0. Their doubles world ranking jumped more than 300 spots and into the top 100, they won the $1 million grand prize, but most importantly, they qualified for the mother of all American tournaments: the U.S. Open.
Just two weeks after their first professional title, Brown and Melville traveled to New York to fulfill their childhood dreams.
But little did they know, Goliath awaited in the first round.
“Everything was happening really fast,” Brown said. “We didn’t know we were going to the U.S. Open, now we’re in the U.S. Open, and now we’re playing Pete Sampras and Jim Courier.”
Courier and Sampras were a doubles powerhouse. Both had been ranked No. 1 in the world in singles and were favorites to sweep the U.S. Open doubles field.
But Brown and Melville ignored the hype on that August day in 1990 and introduced themselves to the tennis world.
“There was a lot of excitement and we were playing with a lot of confidence,” Brown recalls. “We had to have that. We had to really believe in ourselves or else we could have gotten run over by their personas.”
Brown and Melville fell behind early, losing the first set 6-3.
“We didn’t win Pete Sampras’ serve the whole match,” Brown said. “It was really apparent how well he was serving and we didn’t really have a chance. So we focused on Courier’s serve.”
Brown and Melville took the second set and broke Courier’s serve twice in the third set to seal the upset with a 3-6, 6-4, 6-4 victory.
“I remember that on the scoreboard it had Jim Courier and Pete Sampras and my partner’s name, but they had my named mispelled,” Brown said. “It was kind of justice at the end for the no-names to take down the big guns.”
Brown and Melville were awarded access to a loft above Mickey Mantle’s bar that night to celebrate the first round win. Two days later, the duo won one more match, propelling them into the round of 16 where their U.S. Open streak ended.
“It was a great experience and a kickstart to our professional careers,” Brown said. “That few weeks really put a nice little nest egg for us financially to travel the world for the next few years.”
Brown continued to play on the ATP circuit for four more years, changing partners along the way. He played alongside Swedish tennis legend Anders Per Järryd for some tournaments and faced American great Andre Agassi in others, but nothing compared to his professional debut days with Melville.
“Just feeling that sense of accomplishment that maybe you got to the pinnacle of your sport, especially so early in your career,” Brown said. “That’s my biggest achievement.”