Roger Federer’s road to the Wimbledon final was made easier on Monday when #5 Rafael Nadal was shockingly upset by 135th-ranked Steve Darcis of Belgium in the tournament’s first round. Nadal lost 7-6 (4), 7-6 (8), 6-4.
Nadal was eliminated in the second round at last year’s Wimbledon and missed seven months due to knee injuries. He did not return until after the Australian Open, but appeared to make enormous progress and play better than before his injury. He won his eighth French Open just two weeks ago.
The Spaniard has never been eliminated from the first round in a Grand Slam. Darcis is ranked 135th in the world and is the second lowest seed to ever beat Nadal. The last reigning French Open champion to lose in Wimbledon’s first round was Gustavo Kuertan in 1997. Darcis lost 12 of his last 18 first round appearances in a Grand Slam.
Nadal struggled throughout the match. He ran incredibly slow to receive shots and missed numerous ones because he just could not run to meet the shot. There were many times he would limp around the court, leading many to think his knees were bothering him.
All the credit in the world–and even more “props”–needs to be given to Darcis. The first two sets were not easy to close out because Nadal showed his resiliency. But Darcis kept calm and collected and did not allow any sign of a potential Nadal comeback to bother him. In fact, he won the match point with an ace. It was the perfect way to end one of the biggest upsets at Wimbledon.
Darcis is ranked #135 in the world and owns two career titles. His Grand Slam win-loss record is 7-18 and his overall tiebreak win-loss record is 46-26. He spoke to reporters after the match.
“Nobody was expecting me to win today,” he said. “OK, Rafa didn’t play his best tennis today, but I knew the first match on grass is always difficult. I tried to do what I like to do, come to the net as soon as I can, not play too far from the baseline.”
The victory left him speechless.
“I think I did great today,” he said. “I think I don’t know what to say right now. I’m really happy!”
Nadal met the press afterwards and all they wanted to do was talk about his knee. He showed frustration because he wanted to praise Darcis. But the press kept asking him questions about his performance.
“I tried to prepare as well as I could for this tournament knowing it would be harder than ever and it was,” he said. “I can say I will keep working hard and I hope to have here a few more years to play here.”
On the women’s side, #5 Sarah Errani lost to Monica Puig from Puerto Rico in straight sets. On a normal day, that would have been the biggest upset of Wimbledon’s first day. But not this year.