LONDON, England, June 25 – Twelve-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal crashed to one of the most humiliating defeats in Wimbledon history on Monday at the hands of Belgium’s world number 135 Steve Darcis.
Journeyman Darcis clinched a shock 7-6 (7/4), 7-6 (10/8), 6-4 win to condemn the fifth-seed Spanish superstar to a first ever loss in the opening round of a major.
It also came just two weeks after Nadal, the 2008 and 2010 Wimbledon champion, had celebrated a record eighth French Open title.
The sensational result was the first time since Gustavo Kuerten in 1997 that a French Open champion had lost in the opening round at Wimbledon.
Nadal’s last defeat to such a low-ranked player was to Joachim Johansson, the world 690, at the 2006 Stockholm Open.
The defeat, which followed Nadal’s second round shocker at the hands of Lukas Rosol of the Czech Republic at last year’s Wimbledon, brought to an end his 22-match winning streak in 2013.
But he refused to blame his constant struggles with his knees for defeat.
“It’s not the right day (to discuss my knees). I tried my best in every moment, but it was not possible this afternoon,” said Nadal.
“On grass, it’s difficult to adapt when you don’t have a chance to play on the surface before Wimbledon.
“Darcis deserved to win today.”
“Nobody was expecting my win today. I don’t know what to say. I’m really happy,” said Darcis, who has now matched his best performance at the All England Club having reached the second round in 2009.
“OK, Nadal didn’t play his best tennis, but I knew the first match on grass is always difficult. For me it is a big win.
“I tried to come into the net, it worked pretty good.
“He lost early last year as well, but if you try to focus on him it is tougher. I try to focus on myself and I think I did great today.
“I always played good on grass, maybe not here because I had tough draws, but I have two wins against top 10 players on grass.”
Nadal had won 43 of his 45 matches and seven titles since his return to the tour in February after a seven-month injury lay-off to rest his notoriously suspect knees.
But the 27-year-old had warned in the minutes following his historic Paris triumph that he was genuinely concerned over whether or not his knees would hold up at Wimbledon.
He decided not to play a grasscourt warm-up and he looked like a novice on the surface rather than the man who swept to two Wimbledon titles.
Darcis, who has never got beyond the third round of a Grand Slam, capitalised on the Spaniard’s crippling uncertainties by sweeping through the first set tiebreak.
Nadal had lost the first set in both his opening rounds in Paris, so this was familiar territory and he broke to lead 6-5 in the second set.
But Darcis bravely hit back in the 12th game before holding his nerve for a two sets lead on his fifth set point in the tiebreak as Nadal continued to struggle with his rhythm, his angles and his confidence.
Darcis broke again for 2-0 in the third set as Nadal, a shadow of the man who unleashed a constant barrage of pinpoint groundstrokes to lay the foundation of success in Paris, was half-paced and half-hearted.
The Belgian went to 5-3 in the decider and claimed his famous win after 2hr 55min with his 13th ace of the match having also fired down 53 winners.