A year ago, Rafael bowed out in the second round of Wimbledon to world #100 Lukas Rosol. This year, it was worse. Steve Darcis of Belgium, currently ranked #136 in the world, shocked the world by taking out the two-time champion in straight sets, 7-6(4) 7-6(8) 6-4.
The hallowed grass of Wimbledon can bring out the best in a player, and Darcis certainly played some inspired tennis. The match was played on court 1, because of the stacked lineup on center court that included Roger Federer and Andy Murray. From the start, Darcis was the agressor. He earned many break points in Nadal’s opening service games, only to see them get away from him. Most people thought after not being able capitalize on his good start, that Rafa would work himself into the match like he always does. However, Darcis, nicknamed “The Shark”, served well and kept the pressure on until he won the first set tiebreak.
Still, you would have been hard pressed to find people who truly believed that Darcis would win two more sets. Nadal has the ability to find his way out of rough starts unlike any other play, but today it was not to be. The grass requires Nadal to stand closer to the baseline on the return, and Rafa visibly struggled. He was often just blocking his forehand return back in play, and slicing his backhand return weakly. It’s not like Darcis is a huge server. The 5’10 Belgian man has a good solid serve, but it was hardly ever over 120 MPH. Instead, Darcis used great variation on serve to keep Nadal guessing, and he was only broken twice(yes, TWICE) the whole match. After saving a set point in the second set tiebreak, Darcis came up with some fantastic points to close out the set.
The third set went rather ordinarily, as Darcis secured the early break and went on to serve the match out with an ace. This match once again begs the question for Nadal, can he win a slam outside of the French Open? It’s been almost 3 full years since he won the 2010 US Open, his last major not located in Paris. Of course the knee was a problem for Rafa. If he loses, when isn’t he knee a problem? After looking invincible at Roland Garros just 15 days ago, Nadal looked lightyears worse today. In the third set he began to limp, and he clearly left some balls he would have normally reached to show that the knee was bothering him. He even stopped and clenched the knee at one point in the match. Except he grabbed the right knee…not the one that is supposed to be injured…I’ll leave you guys to make your own opinions on that…
In the post match presser, Nadal said he didn’t want to make excuses about the knee, but he basically said the knee was bothering him. Who knows how he’ll recover from here. I’ll say one thing, I wish he could lose one match without saying he was injured. Both players pressers below.