Lukas Rosol kept serving aces and firing groundstrokes past two-time Wimbledon champion Rafael Nadal, each shot sending the Spaniard closer to matching his earliest exit at a Grand Slam tennis tournament.
Undeterred by a 45-minute interruption while the Centre Court roof was closed between the fourth and fifth sets, the 100th-ranked Rosol finished off the second-seeded Nadal 6-7 (9-11), 6-4, 6-4, 2-6, 6-4 last night.
The second-round loss matched Nadal’s earliest at a major tournament. The Czech became the lowest-ranked opponent to defeat Nadal, an 11-time Grand Slam champion, at one of the sport’s four biggest events.
“You play against an inspired opponent and I am out,” Nadal said at a news conference. “It’s not a tragedy. It’s only a tennis match. At the end, that’s life. There are much more important things. Sure, I wanted to win, but I lost.”
Instead of folding under the pressure, Rosol was at his best when the grass-court contest resumed with the players tied at two sets apiece after Nadal had won the fourth set.
Rosol, 26, who had failed to make it through the qualifying rounds at Wimbledon in five previous attempts, broke Nadal’s serve to open the fifth set and never lost his serve or his nerve.
Rosol hit 20 winners, including seven aces, in the fifth set with just two unforced errors. He won his last two service games to love, including three aces in the final game.
“I’m not just surprised, it’s like a miracle,” Rosol, who finished with 22 aces, said in a televised interview. “I never expected to play like this.”
In action today, men’s top seed Novak Djokovic of Serbia continues the defense of his title against another Czech, Radek Stepanek, while six-time winner Roger Federer of Switzerland plays France’s Julien Benneteau. Women’s top seed Maria Sharapova of Russia faces Su-Wei Hsieh of Taipei.
Nadal, 26, had played in five consecutive Wimbledon finals, winning the title in 2008 and 2010. He missed the tournament in 2009 because of knee tendinitis.
Having won the French Open earlier this month, the Spaniard was trying to become the second man since tennis turned professional in 1968 to win at Roland Garros and Wimbledon in the same year three times. The left-hander won both events in 2008 and 2010, while Sweden’s Bjorn Borg won them every year from 1978 to 1980.
Nadal struggled from the start against Rosol, saving three set points before finishing off the first set in a tiebreaker when Rosol dumped a forehand into the net.
Rosol, who was playing in his second grass-court event, won the next two sets -- keeping his focus even after the two men bumped into each other during a changeover in the third set.
Nadal regained the momentum in the fourth set as daylight started to fade, breaking serve in the sixth game after he forced Rosol into a backhand error and then evening the match.
The roof then was closed as the clock passed 8:30 p.m.
“I was playing well in the fourth,” Nadal said. “I think I played a great fourth set. Sure, the stop this time didn’t help me. That’s the sport.”
After the delay, Nadal dropped his serve in the opening game and Rosol never wavered after that, striking groundstrokes of up to 99 miles per hour (159 kilometers per hour). He finished off the match with an ace.
“In the fifth set he played more than unbelievable,” Nadal said. “Before, in the first three sets, I didn’t play well.”
Nadal won’t have to wait a year for another shot at glory on the lawns of the All England Club. He’ll compete at Wimbledon in the London Olympics tennis tournament, which starts July 28. Nadal is the defending Olympic champion.
Before that, he’ll take his first extended break since the start of the clay-court season, in which he won titles in Monte Carlo, Barcelona, Rome and a men’s record seventh championship in Paris.
“I feel very well mentally,” Nadal said. “But physically, you need to rest. I played for the last six months playing almost every match possible in the tournaments that I played. Physically I need to stop a little bit.”