LONDON – Ex-champion Rafael Nadal slumped to a shock first-round exit as world number 135 Steve Darcis pulled off one of the biggest upsets in Wimbledon history today.
The Belgian was inspired as he recorded a 7-6 (7-4) 7-6 (10-8) 6-4 win on Court One to condemn the fifth seed to a second successive early exit at SW19.
It was his first competitive grass tie since Lukas Rosol beat him last year.
However, reigning champion Roger Federer eased into the next round with a 6-3 6-2 6-0 win over Victor Hanescu.
Spaniard Nadal, crowned French Open champion for a record eighth time earlier this month, showed signs he was struggling to adjust from the clay to grass in the opening set and Darcis took advantage.
The 2008 and 2010 Wimbledon winner saved four set points in a second set tie-break and then failed to take one of his own before Darcis claimed it at the fifth opportunity.
And the Belgian showed no signs of nerves as he broke in the first game of the third set before serving out for a famous win which condemned Nadal to his first ever first-round defeat at a Grand Slam.
He became the first reigning Roland Garros champion to lose in the first round of Wimbledon since Gustavo Kuerten in 1997.
Nadal refused to use the knee problems which kept him sidelined for a lengthy period after last year’s Wimbledon exit as an excuse for the defeat.
He said: “There were not a lot of good things for me. I tried my best all the time I had my chances but I did not make it.
“It is difficult to adapt your game on grass. Now is not the right time to talk about my knee. The only thing I can do is congratulate my opponent. It is not a tragedy, I lost, it is sport.
“I’m confident that I will recover and be ready for the next tournaments. I have played far more than I expected after my injury and I will try my best for the next couple of years.”
Darcis said afterwards “Rafa did not play his best match here, it is hard when it is your first match on grass.
“I just wanted to play my own game, coming to the net and not playing far from the baseline. I did not target his knee, tennis is hard enough when you are thinking about yourself.
“I have always played well on grass, perhaps not here where I have had some tough draws, but I am really happy. I do not know what to say.”
Meanwhile, Federer, the world number three and third seed, needed just 69 minutes to beat Romanian world number 48 Hanescu, hitting a mere six unforced errors in total.
The 31-year-old won his first Wimbledon title 10 years ago and is now looking for title number eight after beating Andy Murray last year.
The former world number one, hit 32 winners and broke his opponent six times in total.
“I’ve won Wimbledon a few times now but it still feels special,” he said.