Repeat Shocker at Wimbledon: Rafael Nadal Out at Hands of World No. 135 Steve Darcis in Straight Sets

Rafael Nadal's first ever first round loss at a Major was Monday at Wimbledon

Rafael Nadal’s first ever first round loss at a Major was Monday at Wimbledon

(June 24, 2013) The impossible has happened again at Wimbledon.

After a surprising exit at the hands of Lukas Rosol at last year’s Wimbledon Championships in the second round, world No. 5 Rafael Nadal was dealt another heavy blow on the grass. But this time, in a round earlier and by an opponent ranked even lower.

Monday’s 7-6, 7-6, 6-4 loss to Steve Darcis marks the first time ever that Nadal has lost in the first round of a Major after going 34-0. His opponent hit 53 winners compared to Nadal’s 32, and Darcis hit an astounding 13 aces for his 5’10” frame.

Given his worrisome loss last year, Nadal admitted during his pre-tournament press conference on Saturday that he shouldn’t have played Wimbledon last year.

“Last year I played here because is a tournament that I love, but I was not ready to play here … After Roland Garros I feel that my knee was not there anymore … [T]hat experience for me last year was too much. I suffer too much.”

Though more optimistic coming into Wimbledon this year and playing healthier, on Saturday, Nadal commented that he did not underestimate his first round opponent or how close matches on grass can be.

“[Darcis] is a complete player. I have to play well. I have to play very competitive from the beginning … [O]n this surface, on grass, all the matches are close. Matches can be decided for a few balls. So if you are not hundred percent focused and you’re not at your hundred percent of energy and playing well, you are in big trouble.”

And that’s exactly what happened. With the first set being decided by mere points as it went unexpectedly to a tiebreak, Nadal looked to be in a bit of trouble. And despite having the opportunity to serve out the second set at 6-5, Nadal again faltered and played a poor tiebreak, to go down two sets.

As many expected Nadal to finally wake up and take the match in five sets, he was quickly broken in the opening of the third set and began to look physically and mentally drained. Then, down 5-3 in the third, the camera panned to his uncle and coach Toni Nadal, who himself gave a defeatist smile as he watched on, already grasping the inevitable outcome.

Gone was Nadal’s firepower and energy, and after his loss, the deflated Spaniard addressed the press simply saying, “I didn’t find my rhythm.”

After the big focus on Nadal’s knee during his injury layoff, the Spaniard was questioned several times about the influence his knee played in his defeat. A dumbfounded Nadal finally let out a laugh:

“I think you are joking. I answered this question three or four times already, that I don’t want to talk about my knee this afternoon. The only thing I can say today is to congratulate Steve Darcis, he played a fantastic match. And everything that I will say today about my knee is an excuse. And I don’t like to [make] any excuse when I lose a match like I lost today.”

Nadal again seemed agitated when asked to compare this loss to his loss against Rosol last year. He repeated that he didn’t find any similarities.

Though a shocking loss by most standards, the truth it that Nadal has played a very heavy schedule after coming back from injury and played no tune-up event on grass prior to Wimbledon. He arrived last Tuesday after taking a few days off after Roland Garros.

So the question begs to be asked: should Nadal have adjusted his schedule and taken it lighter in the spring? With a long contemplative pause, Nadal addressed this idea:

“I cannot say when I [make my schedule] if it was wrong or it was positive. Six hours ago, it was a perfect calendar. Now it’s a very negative calendar.”

And, as Nadal states, “that’s sports” for you. Anything can happen. What seemed impossible just hours ago has transpired and left fans with more questions than answers about Nadal’s status, schedule and knee.