Rafael Nadal has been bounced from Wimbledon, after being dismissed in three sets by Belgium’s Steve Darcis, who is ranked No. 135 in the world. Nadal’s upset loss by 7-6(4), 7-6(8), 6-4 stunned tennis fans, shook up the men’s bracket, and raised questions about the Spanish star’s health.
Nadal, 27, has been hampered by knee problems in recent years. But he refused to blame Monday’s loss — his first ever in a Grand Slam tournament’s opening round — on a possible injury. He struggled with his backhand Monday and never took control of a match that lasted nearly three hours.
By contrast, Darcis played well from the start, with an effective serve and slicing shots that gave Nadal trouble.
Another factor in the match may have been Nadal’s comfort level playing on grass. After winning the clay-court French Open earlier this month, Nadal didn’t play in any of the grass-court tournaments many players use to adjust to the surface.
“Rafa Nadal didn’t play his best tennis today,” Darcis said after his win. “The first match on grass is always difficult. It’s his first one. Of course, it’s a big win. I tried to come to the net as soon as I could, not play too far from the baseline. I think it worked pretty good today.”
Calling it “a well-deserved victory for Darcis,” ESPN commentator Patrick McEnroe noted that Nadal is sometimes seen as vulnerable early in tournaments, particularly on grass. And he noted that Nadal’s knee didn’t seem to be an issue until late in the match.
Asked about his fitness after the loss, Nadal instead took the opportunity to congratulate Darcis for playing well. He told reporters, “This is not the time to talk about these sort of things. I don’t want to talk about my knee.”
“I tried my best out there in every moment. It was not possible for me,” Nadal said. “It is not a tragedy.”
If he had advanced as many expected, Nadal would have been on track to meet seven-time champion Roger Federer in the quarterfinals. Federer, who defeated Scotland’s Andy Murray for last year’s title, won his first match of the 2013 tournament by beating Victor Hanescu in three sets.
Because Nadal was seeded fifth at Wimbledon — a slot that matches his current world ranking — the Spaniard was placed in the same side of the bracket with Federer and Murray, leaving world No. 1 Novak Djokovic to contend with No. 4 seed David Ferrer, among others.
A two-time winner at Wimbledon and an eight-time champion at the French Open, Nadal was also upset last year at the All England Club, in Wimbledon’s second round. After that loss, he took the rest of the tennis season off to recuperate his knee.
“Last year I played here because it is a tournament that I love, but I was not ready to play,” Nadal said the day before his match with Darcis. “After Roland Garros I felt that my knee was not there anymore. After here I was not able to complete in one more tournament during the rest of the season.”