Nadal departs Wimbledon in first round
The Spanish French Open champion falls to Belgian Steve Darcis ranked 135 in the world
Spain’s Rafael Nadal waves to the crowd after losing to Belgium’s Steve Darcis on day one of the Wimbledon Championships. Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA
His best results in 2013 have come on the Challenger circuit. He is ranked 135 in the world. He’d won just once at Wimbledon before. Yesterday he brought down Rafa Nadal and Centre Court rose to celebrate what they love best, a rank underdog, a player daring to absurdly over-reach.
“What happens is sport,” said a stoic Nadal, after his shock straight sets defeat, 7-6, 7-6, 6-4. “Sometimes you don’t play well and you lose. That is sport. It is not a tragedy.”
The player who sent the tremor through the draw, Steve Darcis, had the look of a man that had just emerged from his bunker to find the entire town had disappeared in the passing hurricane. And as people halted to revise their views on what many saw as the out of date, All England Club committee, who eccentrically seeded Nadal five, a wide eyed Darcis came off court something of a local hero.
The upside is the winning Andy Murray has one less former champion to consider if he dares to make himself a challenger, with Roger Federer, in Murray’s half of the draw, also coming through yesterday in straight sets.
On a day of the gods Nadal normally turns Centre Court into a coliseum, where Federer makes it his cathedral. Nadal brings war and certain pain, Federer sleight of hand and artistry. But yesterday the Spaniard fell far short of the bombastic warrior and what brought him down much more than Darcis did, what sapped his spirit, was his own fallible game.
Loose shots scattered the ball everywhere, wide and long. The accurate whipped forehand; the heavy spin that usually steeples into opponent’s underarms; the tricky left hand and his muscular brand of play and movement that few can match vanished.
The winner at Roland Garros a few weeks ago for his 12th Grand Slam, joint third on the list of all time Slam winners with Roy Emerson behind Federer (17) and Pete Sampras (14), Nadal didn’t warm up with a grass tournament for the first time since his Wimbledon debut in 2003.
Instead he spent time at home in Mallorca recovering, rather than playing the grass tournament at Halle. Declining to use physical reasons for the defeat, although he seemed troubled by his knee in the final set, the Spaniard sought no refuge in excuses.
“I think you are joking,” he said when asked about his knee. “I answered this question three times or four times already. I don’t gonna talk about my knee this afternoon. The only thing I can say is congratulate Steve Darcis. He played a fantastic match.
“Everything that I will say about my knee today is an excuse and I don’t like to put any excuse when I lose a match. He deserves not one excuse.”