Wimbledon witnessed one of its biggest upsets in recent history on the opening day of this year’s Grand Slam as two-time champion Rafael Nadal was put out by No. 135-ranked Belgian Steve Darcis in straight sets, 7-6(4), 7-6(8), 6-4. The loss is Nadal’s second straight early-round upset at the All England Club after famously being ousted by Czech Lukas Rosol in the second round in 2012.
Following that loss, Nadal was absent from the tour for seven months with a knee problem but has been sensational since his return in February. The 27-year-old has reached the final of all nine tournaments he has played and won seven of them, including at the French Open just two weeks ago. With that form, many picked Nadal, even controversially being seeded fifth, as a favorite to add to the Wimbledon titles he won in 2008 and 2010. Indeed, anticipation had already been building for a scheduled quarterfinal with Roger Federer.
But that talk has now gone up in flames courtesy of a 29-year-old journeyman, who has only previously reached the second round of Wimbledon once. But Darcis showed few signs of intimidation throughout his stunning win on No.1 Court. Rather than blasting Nadal off the court as Rosol did 12 months ago, Darcis was simply outplaying Nadal with his all-court game. And, despite being broken when he served for the opening set at 6-5, he went onto take it 7-4 on the tiebreak after 68 minutes.
When Nadal broke at 5-5 to serve to level the match in the second set, normal service looked set to be resumed. But Darcis again had a different script in mind and promptly broke straight back before showing plenty of guts to win a tense tiebreak 10-8 with his fifth set point as a Nadal forehand went long.
Although there was still plenty of work to be done for Darcis to close out a victory over one of the greatest players in history, the second-set tiebreak proved to be the critical moment. Darcis continued to motor ahead and broke Nadal in his first game of the third set. As the set progressed on serve, it became increasingly clear that Nadal’s troublesome left knee was hampering his movement.
Now visibly limping between points, Nadal wasn’t capable of mounting a fight back, either in the set or the match. in contrast Darcis was moving fantastically and, serving for the match, he superbly retrieved a Nadal drop volley and cleared the net for a forehand winner. A point later it was match point and Darcis won it in style with an ace down the middle to etch his name in the history books.
In the post-match press conference, Nadal refused to comment about the injury.
“Today is not the right day,” he said.