LONDON — Just like that, in a span of 15 days, Rafael Nadal went from French Open champion for a record eighth time to first-round Grand Slam loser for the only time in his career.
Limping occasionally and slower than usual, but unwilling afterward to blame an old left knee injury, the two-time Wimbledon winner exited Monday against 135th-ranked Steve Darcis of Belgium, 7-6 (4), 7-6 (8), 6-4 – one of the most stunning results ever at the All England Club.
“Nobody remembers the losses. People remember the victories,” Nadal said, shaking his head as he leaned back in a black leather chair. “And I don’t want to remember that loss.”
Everyone else definitely will.
It certainly belongs in the same category as his loss a year ago at Wimbledon, in the second round to Lukas Rosol, a player ranked 100th at the time.
After that setback, Nadal missed about seven months because of his bad left knee. Since returning, he had gone 43-2 and reached the finals at all nine tournaments he entered, winning seven.
Most recently, in Paris, he collected his 12th Grand Slam trophy, tied for third-most in history, while extending his winning streak to 22 matches.
“Two weeks ago, I was in a fantastic situation, winning a fantastic tournament,” Nadal said. “Two weeks later, I lost here in the first round. That’s the positive and the negative thing about this sport.”
Darcis came in 7-18 in Grand Slam matches, a .280 winning percentage, including 12 first-round losses. So when asked his reaction upon hearing last week that he would be facing Nadal, Darcis smiled broadly and gave a one-word answer unfit for publication.
Then he added: “When you see the draw, of course you say, ‘Ah, it’s bad luck.’ ”
While Nadal was struggling, Roger Federer and Andy Murray looked like the title contenders they are supposed to be in the first round. Federer, the defending champion, needed all of 68 minutes to beat 48th-ranked Victor Hanescu of Romania, 6-3, 6-2, 6-0, on Centre Court, as former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice looked on from the Royal Box.
“I’m happy to get out of there early and quickly,” Federer said. “Perfect day.”
In the most noteworthy women’s result, fifth-seeded Sara Errani, the 2012 French Open runner-up, lost to Puerto Rican teenager Monica Puig, 6-3, 6-2. Maria Sharapova, the 2004 Wimbledon champion, won in straight sets. So did second-seeded Victoria Azarenka, but not without a scare.
Azarenka twisted her right knee early in the second set, sending her tumbling to the grass and sobbing. After about a 10-minute break while a trainer wrapped Azarenka’s knee, the two-time Australian Open champion finished off a 6-1, 6-2 victory over 106th-ranked Maria Joao Koehler of Portugal.
“I was in such shock,” Azarenka said. “You know, for two minutes I had such a consistent pain that it just completely freaked me out.”
Reigning U.S. Open champion Murray, trying to become the first British man to win Wimbledon in 77 years, eliminated 92nd-ranked Benjamin Becker of Germany, 6-4, 6-3, 6-2. Murray lost to Federer in last year’s final, then returned to the same spot four weeks later and beat Federer for a gold medal at the London Olympics.
“As a fan of tennis, it’s probably disappointing that he’s out, because he’s a fun guy to watch,” Murray said about Nadal.