LONDON — Rafael Nadal went down in the first round of a Grand Slam event for the first time in his career on Monday, as the Spaniard lost to Belgian underdog Steve Darcis 7-6 (7-4), 7-6 (10-8), 6-4 at the Wimbledon Championships.
Nadal was favoring his long-injured left knee as he lost to No. 135 Darcis, who has now beaten two top-10 opponents on grass.
Nadal’s earliest losses at the majors came in the Wimbledon second round in 2005 and a year ago when he was beaten by Lukas Rosol and then took months off to heal and rest his problem knee. He also lost twice in New York in the second round early in his career.
Since February, the world No. 5 has reached nine finals and won seven titles, including a record eighth at the French Open this month.
“No one was expecting my win today,” said Darcis, who beat Czech Tomas Berdych on the same court at the London Olympics. “OK, he didn’t play his best tennis, but the first match on grass is always tough.
“For me, this was a huge win. My strategy was to get to the net as soon as I could and it worked well.
“I didn’t target his knee, but it was tough tennis. I tried to focus on myself and what I had to do. I did great today. I don’t know what to say right now. I’m very happy.”
Nadal served for the second set to try and make a match out of it, but Darcis instead took it into a tiebreaker where he needed 5 set points to take a two-set lead, with the Belgian also saving a set point.
“Sometime you play well and have chance to win, sometime you play worse and you lose. … There were not a lot of good things for me today. Darcis played well and that’s all,” said Nadal.
“I tried my best in every moment, and it was not possible for me. I had my chances and I didn’t make it. I didn’t find my rhythm. It’s not a tragedy; that is sport.”
Andy Murray, seeded second, started his campaign for the first British men’s title in 78 years by beating Benjamin Becker 6-4, 6-3, 6-2.
Third seed Roger Federer began his title defense with a 6-3, 6-2, 6-0 defeat of Romanian Victor Hanescu to take the first step toward a historic eighth title at the All England Club.
The holder of a record 17 Grand Slam singles trophies needed a mere 69 minutes, breaking six times and firing 32 winners.
“You hope to play a good match, then you try to control what you can,” said Federer. “I pack my bags anyway for five sets every single time. So I’m happy that things went well out there today.”
There were wins for sixth seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, No. 10 Marin Cilic and No. 15 Nicolas Almagro. Serb Viktor Troicki put out 14th-seeded compatriot Janko Tipsarevic 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (7-5).
Women’s second seed Victoria Azarenka hammered Maria Joao Koehler of Portugal 6-1, 6-2, playing on after wrenching her knee in a tumble on a slick spot of grass.
“My leg just kind of collapsed. I felt like my knee just turned to the other way, and it was just so nasty.
“I was in such shock. For two minutes I had such a consistent pain that it just completely freaked me out. You’re just down on the ground, you never knew what happened.”
Third seed Maria Sharapova had a fright of a different sort, trailing Kristina Mladenovic in the first set before lifting her game for a 7-6 (7-5), 6-3 win over the Frenchwoman. Fifth seed Sara Errani of Italy was beaten 6-3, 6-2 by Monica Puig of Puerto Rico in the first upset of the fortnight. Caroline Wozniacki started with a win, and Ana Ivanovic, seeded 12th, overcame Virginie Razzano 7-6 (7-1), 6-0.