Wimbledon: 135th-ranked player stuns sluggish Nadal

2013-06-25T00:00:00Z Wimbledon: 135th-ranked player stuns sluggish NadalThe Associated Press The Associated Press
June 25, 2013 12:00 am  • 

LONDON - For the second straight year, Rafael Nadal is leaving Wimbledon early after a shocking loss to a little-known player ranked in the hundreds.

In one of the tournament's greatest upsets, an ailing Nadal was knocked out in straight sets Monday by 135th-ranked Steve Darcis of Belgium - the Spaniard's first loss in the opening round of any Grand Slam event.

The free-swinging Darcis defeated the two-time champion 7-6 (4), 7-6 (8), 6-4, ending Nadal's 22-match winning streak and eliminating one of the Big Four of men's tennis on the very first day of the grass-court Grand Slam.

After serving an ace down the middle on match point, Darcis conceded he was as surprised as everyone.

"Nobody was expecting me to win," he said. "So I had to play a good match, relax, and enjoy the game. That's what I did."

There were no surprises for the other big names: Defending champion Roger Federer, bidding for a record eighth Wimbledon title, and second-seeded Andy Murray both won in straight sets on Centre Court.

Nadal was sidelined for seven months with a left knee injury after losing in the second round of Wimbledon last year. He seemed to be struggling physically Monday. He was unable to turn with speed or use his legs to spring into his groundstrokes, limping and failing to run for some shots.

Nadal declined to blame any injury and gave full credit to the 29-year-old Darcis, who had never beaten a top-5 player before and has yet to go beyond the third round of any Grand Slam.

"I don't ... talk about my knee this afternoon," Nadal said. "Only thing that can say today is congratulate Steve Darcis. He played a fantastic match."

Darcis, who had won only one previous match at Wimbledon, played the match of his life Monday, going for his shots and moving Nadal from corner to corner. Darcis amassed a total of 53 winners, compared with 32 for Nadal.

Nadal was coming off his eighth championship at the French Open this month. But on this day he never looked like the player who has won 12 Grand Slam titles and established himself as one of the greatest players of his generation.

Last year, Nadal was ousted in the second round by 100th-ranked Lukas Rosol.

After that loss, Nadal took the rest of the year off to recover from the knee problem, missing the U.S. Open and Australian Open. Since returning to action this year, he had made it to the finals of all nine tournaments he entered, winning seven.

Ten years after his first Wimbledon championship, Federer opened play on Centre Court as defending champion and looked right as home as he dismantled Victor Hanescu of Romania 6-3, 6-2, 6-0 in a grass-court clinic lasting 68 minutes. Federer had 32 winners, seven aces and just six unforced errors. He won 90 percent of the points when he put his first serve in.

Another Wimbledon champion, 2002 winner Lleyton Hewitt, displayed his grass-court prowess by upending 11th-seeded Stanislas Wawrinka 6-4, 7-5, 6-3.

Murray, the U.S. Open champion who is again trying to become the first British man to win the trophy since Fred Perry in 1936, got off to a strong start with a 6-4, 6-3, 6-2 win over Benjamin Becker of Germany.

In women's play, there was an early upset as fifth-seeded Sara Errani was eliminated by Puerto Rican teenager Monica Puig 6-3, 6-2. In other women's matches, second-seeded Victoria Azarenka overcame a right knee injury from a scary fall, beating Maria Joao Koehler of Portugal 6-1, 6-2.

Third-seeded Maria Sharapova, the 2004 Wimbledon champion, came through a first-set tiebreaker and beat 37th-ranked Kristina Mladenovic of France 7-6 (5), 6-3. Other women's winners included No. 9 Caroline Wozniacki, No. 12 Ana Ivanovic and No. 16 Jelena Jankovic.

Today

• What: Wimbledon, first round

• When: 4 a.m. • TV: ESPN

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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