Nadal relives a familiar Wimbledon nightmare
The cauldron of sport can brew dreams into reality just as easily as it can make a stew from a dream and turn it into a nightmare. The most hallowed park in the game of tennis laid a dreadful flytrap in the remorseless path of Rafael Nadal as it captured and devoured the Spaniard for a second year in a row. In stark contrast, a 29-year-old Belgian lived out his wildest dream just as Nadal was going through his worst nightmare at the other side of the net on the same stage. Steve Darcis went one better on the mighty accomplishment of Lukas Rosol last year, steering with steadfastness through a stormy 7-6(4), 7-6(8), 6-4 victory over Nadal in the first round of Wimbledon.
So much for all the brouhaha over the draw and the seeding formula that determines the pecking order at SW19 each year. When it was finally known that Rafael Nadal would only be seeded fifth, it was presumed that the bottom half would reel under the gravitational influence of the mascon-like Spaniard. But a Belgian, who suddenly believed he was from Jupiter, floated around court 1 with a surprisingly assured effort to defy Nadal’s gravitational pull and soar to rarefied heights.
The upset was obviously sensational, possibly among the biggest upset in recent memory. Especially considering that the twelve-time Grand Slam champion has never lost in the first round of a Grand Slam event ever in his career. Darcis, on the other hand, was no more than an afterthought heading into Wimbledon. He was only a second alternate after losing in the qualifiers, but a series of withdrawals opened up the spot for the 135th ranked Belgian.
The two-time Wimbledon champion has suffered in the past too. In 2009, Nadal was forced to withdraw just days ahead of his title defence. Last year, 100th ranked Lukas Rosol upended the Spaniard on an inspired afternoon. Darcis probably drew belief from the heroics of his predecessor and some weakness in the knee of his opponent, but he still had to deal with his nerves and stay the course to score the biggest upset of his career.
In the time that it took the spectators to settle in to their appointed seats, Darcis unsettled Nadal by stepping inside the court to attack with gay abandon. The Belgian used the slice to devastating effect, denying Nadal the bounce he needed to strike his typically ferocious groundstrokes. The 29-year-old even had the temerity to move Nadal from side to side before leaving him stranded in the wrong place.
The Belgian may have won just once in four earlier outings at Wimbledon, but played with the freedom and authority of a man possessed to oust the hottest player on the circuit. Nadal had stacked an incredible 43-2 record since returning from a seven-month layoff in February. The run included nine finals in as many events and seven titles as he bludgeoned his way to triumph after triumph on the red shale of Europe.