French Open champion Rafael Nadal was knocked out of the opening round of Wimbledon in straight sets by Steve Darcis, his earliest loss in a Grand Slam event.
Darcis beat the fifth-seeded Spaniard, 7-6 (7-4), 7-6 (10-8), 6-4 on Court 1 at the All England Club in London. The Belgian has now won three of the eight top-tier matches he’s played in 2013.
Darcis, ranked 135th on the ATP World Tour, closed the match with his 13th ace, while Nadal had six. Darcis produced 53 winners, compared with 32 for Nadal. Both men made 24 unforced errors.
“Nobody was expecting my win today,” Darcis told the British Broadcasting Corp. “Rafa didn’t play his best tennis today. I don’t know what to say right now, I am really happy.”
The loss opens up the men’s draw for second-seeded Andy Murray and defending champion Roger Federer, who both advanced on the opening day of the tournament. In the women’s draw, second seed Victoria Azarenka and 2004 winner Maria Sharapova also advanced, while fifth seed Sara Errani was upset by Monica Puig of Puerto Rico.
Nadal, a two-time champion at the All England Club, also struggled on the London grass courts last year, when he lost in the second round to then 100th-ranked Lukas Rosol of the Czech Republic. The 27-year-old Nadal left the men’s tour for seven months after that defeat to recover from a partially torn patella tendon and inflammation in his left knee. The injury forced him to miss the London Olympics, the U.S. Open and the Australian Open.
The Spaniard wouldn’t discuss his fitness today after the loss.
“I am confident that I will have a good recovery and be ready for the next tournaments,” Nadal told reporters. “I played much more than what I dreamed before here after the injury. So that’s a fantastic and very positive thing for me. I know the grass is a difficult surface for the way that I need to play.”
Since his comeback to the men’s tour in February, Nadal has won seven titles, including a record eighth French Open championship two weeks ago at Roland Garros in Paris. Nadal had entered Wimbledon not having played a warm-up on grass, in order to rest his knees.
Darcis had lost in the first round in 12 of 18 previous Grand Slam appearances, including this year’s French Open. His best performance at Wimbledon came in 2009, when he also reached the second round. His best grass-court result came in Eastbourne last year, when he reached the semifinals.
After dropping the first set, Nadal served for the second set at 6-5. A forehand passing set up two break points for Darcis, who converted as Nadal dumped a backhand into the net. Darcis raced to a 4-2 lead in the tie-break as Nadal made backhand and forehand errors and struggled with his footing on the new grass.
Darcis set up three set points with a service winner, only to squander all of them with unforced errors. A fourth set point was lost with a backhand in the net. Nadal failed to take a set point of his own at 8-7 on a netted backhand, and Darcis took a two-set lead when a Nadal forehand sailed over the baseline.
Nadal continued to struggle in the third set, dropping serve early as he occasionally pulled up his leg and seemed to have trouble changing direction. Serving for the biggest win of his life at 5-4, Darcis got to two match points as Nadal hit a forehand wide, and won the match with an ace.
“He played a fantastic match,” Nadal said. “Everything that I will say today about my knee is an excuse, and I don’t like to put any excuse when I’m losing a match like I lost today.”
Murray defeated Germany’s Benjamin Becker, 6-4, 6-3, 6-2 to win his eighth straight opening-round match at Wimbledon. He’s trying to become the first British man since Fred Perry in 1936 to win at the All England Club.
Federer, 31, beat Victor Hanescu of Romania 6-3, 6-2, 6-0. Last year, the Swiss right-hander tied the record of seven titles held by William Renshaw and Pete Sampras by defeating Murray in the final.
“I enjoyed myself,” Federer said. “I’m happy. It was a great first round for me. I don’t know how much better I could have played. It was cold, and winning the first round always relieves the pressure a bit.”
Sixth seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France beat Belgium’s David Goffin in three sets, and 10th-seeded Marin Cilic of Croatia eased past Cyprus’s Marcos Baghdatis. Viktor Troicki defeated fellow Serb Janko Tipsarevic, the 14th seed, in three sets.
Lleyton Hewitt, the champion 11 years ago, beat Switzerland’s Stanislas Wawrinka, the No. 11 seed, in straight sets. The 32-year-old Australian had reached the semifinals of grass-court warmup Queen’s shortly before Wimbledon.
Rosol lost his opening-round match to Germany’s Julian Reister in five sets. American John Isner defeated Evgeny Donskoy of Russia 6-1, 7-6 (7-5), 7-6 (7-3), while Mikhail Youzhny, a Russian seeded 20th, beat Robin Haase of the Netherlands 6-4, 7-5, 7-5.
Women’s second seed Victoria Azarenka of Belarus overcame a knee injury to defeat Portugal’s Maria Joao Koehler 6-1, 6-2. Azarenka slipped on the court while leading 1-0 in the second set and needed treatment on the side of the court. Struggling to plant and push off with her left leg, Azarenka grimaced when she hit shots.
“It was such a shock, I slipped, I don’t know what happened out there,” Azarenka said. “It was very emotional, I couldn’t believe what happened.”
Sharapova, the third seed from Russia, beat Kristina Mladenovic of France 7-6 (7-5), 6-3.
“The first match is always difficult on the grass and my opponent played really well,” Sharapova said. “She has a big game and a big serve as well.”
Puig, a 19-year-old playing in her first Wimbledon, beat Errani, the 2012 French Open runner-up, 6-3, 6-2, winning on her seventh match point. Errani pulled out of the grass-court warmup event in Eastbourne with a right adductor strain. Her best results at Wimbledon were third-round losses in 2010 and last year.
Ana Ivanovic, the 12th seed from Serbia, defeated qualifier Virginie Razzano of France 7-6 (7-1), 6-0. Italy’s Flavia Pennetta beat Britain’s Elena Baltacha 6-4, 6-1.
Petra Kvitova, the 2011 champion, beat Coco Vandeweghe of the U.S. in three sets. Ninth seed Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark defeated Estrella Cabeza Candela of Spain, while Sloane Stephens defeated fellow American Jamie Hampton.