Rafael Nadal’s earliest exit from a Grand Slam event opened up the Wimbledon draw for defending champion Roger Federer and U.S. Open winner Andy Murray.
Nadal, the fifth seed from Spain and a two-time champion at the All England Club, was upset yesterday by Steve Darcis of Belgium 7-6 (7-4), 7-6 (10-8), 6-4.
Two weeks after winning a record eighth French Open championship on the slow red clay courts at Roland Garros in Paris, Nadal lost on the quicker grass courts in London to a player ranked 135th in the world who has only won three matches this year on the world’s top men’s tennis tour. Nadal lost in the second round of Wimbledon last year and left the sport for seven months with an injured knee. He wasn’t blaming his body this time.
“I am not going to talk about my knee,” Nadal said in a news conference. “Only thing that can say today is congratulate Steve Darcis. He played a fantastic match. Everything that I will say about my knee is an excuse, and I don’t like to put any excuse when I’m losing a match.”
Top-seeded Novak Djokovic of Serbia plays Germany’s Florian Mayer in the first round today, while fourth seed David Ferrer of Spain takes on Martin Alund of Argentina. Women’s No. 1 seed Serena Williams will meet Mandy Minella of Luxembourg and fourth seed Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland plays Yvonne Meusburger of Austria. China’s Li Na takes on Michaella Krajicek of the Netherlands.
Nadal was seeded fifth after slipping in the rankings because of his time away from the tour, putting him in line to play Federer, a seven-time Wimbledon champion from Switzerland, and Murray, last year’s tournament runner-up from Britain.
The third-seeded Federer would have played Nadal in the quarterfinals, after losing to him in the 2008 championship match. The second-seeded Murray has lost three times to the Spaniard on the London lawns.
“It’s a surprising loss,” Murray told reporters after he eased into the second round with a 6-4, 6-3, 6-2 win over Germany’s Benjamin Becker.
Murray is trying to become the first British man since Fred Perry in 1936 to win the singles title at the All England Club. He didn’t want to look ahead into the second week now that Nadal is gone.
“It’s pretty irrelevant right now; I have to win four more matches before that would even become something to think about,” he said. “But as a fan of tennis, it’s probably disappointing that he’s out as he’s a fun guy to watch. He brings a lot to the tournaments he plays in.”
Federer, 31, beat Victor Hanescu of Romania 6-3, 6-2, 6-0. Last year, the Swiss right-hander tied the record of seven Wimbledon titles held by William Renshaw and Pete Sampras.
“I’m happy that things went well out there,” Federer said. “In the first round, we’ve seen the surprise losses happen too often.”
Second seed Victoria Azarenka and 2004 winner Maria Sharapova advanced in the women’s draw yesterday, while fifth seed Sara Errani was upset by Monica Puig of Puerto Rico.
Sharapova, the third seed from Russia, beat Kristina Mladenovic of France 7-6 (7-5), 6-3.
Azarenka overcame a second-set fall and treatment on her knee i to beat Portugal’s Maria Joao Koehler 6-1, 6-2. Puig, a 19-year-old playing in her first Wimbledon, beat Errani, the 2012 French Open runner-up, 6-3, 6-2.
Darcis, 29, said his Wimbledon preparation helped him against Nadal.
“I served very good,” said Darcis, who produced 13 aces to Nadal’s six. “I could use a lot of slice. And I think he didn’t like it so much. Of course, he didn’t play his best tennis. But I knew it is the first match on grass for him. Me, I played already four. So I think it helped me.”
Playing on grass, where the balls don’t bounce as high as on red clay, takes some adjustment, Nadal said.
“It’s probably the toughest surface for me today, because I had to move and I have to play in a lower position than in the rest of the surfaces,” said Nadal, who had 32 winners while Darcis produced 53.
Nadal also struggled on the London grass courts last year, when he was eliminated by then 100th-ranked Lukas Rosol of the Czech Republic. The 27-year-old Spaniard took time then to recover from a partially torn patella tendon and inflammation in his left knee, missing the London Olympics, the U.S. Open and the Australian Open.
The Spaniard wouldn’t discuss his fitness after this loss, the first time he’s failed to reach at least the second round at one of the sport’s four major events.
“I am confident that I will have a good recovery and be ready for the next tournaments,” Nadal said. “I played much more than what I dreamed before here after the injury. So that’s a fantastic and very positive thing for me.”
Nadal has won seven titles since his comeback to the ATP World Tour in February,. He entered Wimbledon not having played a warm-up on grass, in order to rest his knees.
Down two sets, Nadal dropped serve early in the third, occasionally pulling up his leg and seeming to have trouble changing direction.
Down 2-4, Nadal changed tactics, trying to shorten the points. Chasing a drop shot at 3-4 down, Nadal limped as he run toward the net, and ended up losing the point. Nadal failed to get the break back for 4-4, dumping yet another backhand into the net on break point. Serving for the biggest win of his life at 5-4, Darcis got to two match points when Nadal hit a forehand wide, and won the match with an ace.
“At the end physically I started to feel a little bit tired,” said Darcis, never past the second round of Wimbledon. “Luckily I could serve good and stay very calm. I think it was the key.”
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.
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.
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 champion two years ago from the Czech Republic, beat Coco Vandeweghe of the U.S. in three sets while 12th seeded Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark moved to the second round with a straight-set win over Spain’s Estrella Cabeza Candella. No.18 seed Sloane Stephens, a semifinalist at the Australian Open, beat fellow American Jamie Hampton in straight sets.
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