Having sent Rafael Nadal packing last year, Steve Darcis is among some familiar names aiming to secure his place at The Championships this year through qualifying.
It was the biggest first-round upset of 2013 – Steve Darcis, a 135th-ranked Belgian sending two-time Wimbledon champion Rafael Nadal packing, with barely an excuse offered from the Spaniard.
The euphoria would be all too brief.
Twelve months on and the 5ft 10in player, nicknamed 'The Shark', is plying his trade on the lawns at Roehampton, simply thankful to have secured a wildcard into Wimbledon qualifying.
A shoulder injury sustained in his upset of Nadal forced his withdrawal from a scheduled second-round match with Lukasz Kubot at SW19. Darcis’s last pay cheque after Wimbledon was a scant $2,160 for winning a third-tier Future events in Mons in September. He would go under the knife immediately after.
On Monday, he made his first tentative moves back to top-flight competition with a 7-5, 6-3 first-round qualifying win over Ukrainian Illya Marchenko.
In a rusty first set, signs he was lacking match play were hard to ignore.
“It was not easy at all. I was playing very good the first set leading 5-2, 0-40 and then he came back to 5-all. I need some matches. I didn’t play for almost one year,” Darcis said. “All the big points I didn’t play so good so that kind of match I need, of course, for the confidence. It is good to win in straight sets.”
The 30-year-old Belgian is a former top-50 player, and despite missing out on a main draw wildcard, was putting his comeback into perspective after a challenging period on the sidelines.
“Last year was maybe the best moment of my career and at the same time maybe the worst one,” he said. “It’s been like 12 months, very, very tough, especially the first two months with a lot of pain. Now I’m enjoying being back on the court and very lucky to get the wildcard in quallies.
“I have to enjoy because it’s been so tough. I had torn a ligament in the shoulder and the surgeon said I had no choice. Either I had to stop or we try because he was not sure I could play again. Of course I wanted to play again.”
Fellow former top-50 player, Ryan Harrison, was another having to adjust to the unfamiliar surroundings of Grand Slam qualifying on his own comeback trail from injury. Having been sidelined for much of 2014 due to a back injury, the American was largely outplayed in a nervous first set against American-born Japanese player Taro Daniel and was forced to recover from a break of serve down in the third set to claim his opener 2-6, 6-3, 6-4.
Now ranked No.140 in the world, Harrison will meet another Japanese player, Yasutaka Uchiyama, in round two.
The result was not so good for Uchiyama’s countryman, second seed Go Soeda. The Japanese player fell in straight sets to Austrian Martin Fischer.
Former junior Wimbledon champion Luke Saville, of Australia, claimed the biggest scalp of the day, rebounding after losing a second-set tie-break to defeat top-seeded Brazilian Thomaz Bellucci in three.
Third-seeded American Tim Smyczek dropped just five games to Belgian Niels Desein, while ninth seed Denis Kudla and 26th seed Alex Kuznetsov continued the strong start for the Americans. Kudla easily accounted for Georgian Nikoloz Basilashvili, while Kuznetsov downed Swiss Henri Laaksonen. German seeds Andreas Beck (No.12) and Daniel Brands (No.16) beat American Chase Buchanan and Slovenian Grega Zemlja respectively. French 19th seed Pierre-Hugues Herbert took out Croatian young gun Borna Coric.
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