Punch-Drunk - Rafael Nadal embarrassed in first-round KO
Battered, bewildered and beaten, Rafael Nadal left Wimbledon today with the air of a punch-drunk boxer, his face bearing the bruises of a working over by a little known journeyman.
The former champion came to London to regain his crown, built up as the crescendo to his killer comeback, the kind that gets sports lovers purring and sports writers clamouring for superlatives.
But the Spaniard packed no punch. In his way, the challenger Stephen Darcis, a 29-year-old Belgian known by few outside of tennis circles, but with a couple of top-twenty scalps under his belt that surely served only to beef up the pre-match press conference. Not so. With his thirteenth ace of the non-contest, Darcis knocked Nadal out of Wimbledon and onto the canvas of humiliation.
Brow-beaten, Nadal’s troublesome knee buckled under the pressure. Darcis played with class belying his world ranking of 135, but watching his opponent stumble from point to point was surely as painful as the injury itself. Desperate to shy away from his backhand, Nadal shrank with every passing ball and left court number one to apologetic applause by the Wimbledon faithful.
Whether this leaves Nadal as a top table warrior is difficult to foresee. This is not a Tiger Woods style injury comeback, where a major is chosen to burst back onto the scene in a blaze of glory. The two-time Wimbledon champion had completed a vast period of rehabilitation, months of tournaments stacked up in order to allow him a considered chance of adding to his twelve grand slam victories. Whether onlookers are willing to accept it or not, his performance this afternoon had a sombre tone and smacked of desperation.
We can only hope that this indiscretion is the last of many injury-inflicted blips in Nadal’s stellar career. But as has been the case with sporting names across the codes, there is a chance that the Spaniard may ignore his body and carry on regardless, desperately clinging to the coattails of his former successes and lowering himself to fodder for the likes of Darcis to feast upon in their fifteen minutes of fame.
Jack Johnson did it. Too many footballers do it. Sachin Tendulkar is doing it. Sports fans are too often subjected to diminished shells of superstars that retract from their brilliance.
The memory of Rafael Nadal, still only 27, needs to recover fast from an embarrassing defeat that will leave more than a bloodied nose. He took one hell of a beating today.