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Huge shock as Rafael Nadal suffers first-round loss

Nadal adopts an anguished look against Steve Darcis.
by Barry Newcombe
Monday 24 June 2013

Wimbledon experienced a first on Monday as Rafael Nadal lost an opening-round match at a Grand Slam for the first time in his storied career, beaten by Steve Darcis of Belgium, ranked No.135 in the world.

Darcis took the match on No.1 Court by the throat from the start and never allowed Nadal to dominate any sector of the contest, winning 7-6(4), 7-6(8), 6-4 in two hours and 55 minutes.

"I think today I serve very good," said Darcis. "I could use a lot of slice. And I think he didn't like it so much. Of course, he didn't play his best tennis. But I knew it is the first match on grass for him. Me, I played already four. So I think it helped me today."

Asked about Nadal's fitness, he said: "Physically, it (his knee) looks OK. I think he was running, he was moving good. Of course, you don't beat Nadal if he's playing his best tennis, I think."

Nadal might have thought his second-round defeat by Lukas Rosol last year was bad enough but coming into The 2013 Championships, he was at the height of his game having won in Paris over fellow Spaniard David Ferrer, and was entitled to expect a reasonable run at Wimbledon. Darcis, aged 29, never gave the younger challenger a chance.

"There were not a lot of good things for me," said Nadal, who nonetheless refused to blame the loss on his troublesome knee.

"Now is not the right time to talk about my knee. The only thing I can do is congratulate my opponent. It is not a tragedy, I lost, it is sport. I'm confident that I will recover and be ready for the next tournaments. I have played far more than I expected after my injury and I will try my best for the next couple of years."

The odds were surely stacked against Darcis. He had played at Wimbledon only three times before – and was a first-round loser a year ago. In 12 of his 18 previous Grand Slam appearances he had lost in the first round.

Darcis's best performance at Wimbledon before Monday was to reach the second round in 2009, although he signalled his danger on grass at the All England Club last year when he stunned Tomas Berdych - another top 10 player - at the Olympics.

He had a good year on grass at Eastbourne in 2012 when he reached the semi-finals before quitting with a back injury against Andy Roddick, but his best results have largely been on the Challenger circuit.

On Monday at Wimbledon, Darcis made sure he will forever be remembered in the tennis history books, handing 12-time major champion Nadal his first ever loss in the opening round of Grand Slam.

If Darcis had any doubts about realising his ambitions, he put them to bed very quickly - engineering six break points in Nadal's first four service games. At 5-5, he finally made the breakthrough after a loose forehand from Nadal, but he could not sustain it, Nadal breaking back for 6-6.

If the crowd expected Nadal to find his range and quell the Darcis challenge, they were to be surprised. Darcis coolly took the tie-break 7-4.

The first set had taken 68 minutes. The second was three minutes shorter and this time Darcis had to prove he could cope with the rising pressure as Nadal sought a way back. Darcis gave him a critical chance by dropping serve to go 6-5 behind but Nadal was unable to serve it out. In the tie-break, which ranged over 18 compelling points, Darcis had four set points before winning it on the fifth chance when Nadal missed a forehand.

The biggest indicator of all that Nadal was struggling came when he lost his serve for the last time at the start of the third set. Darcis hit a fine forehand to win the first point and two successive cross-court winners to take the Spanish serve.

Darcis had one problem later when he had to save a break point in the eighth but he was rolling now and ended with a booming ace down the 'T'.

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