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 7-6 (4), 7-6 (8), 6-4 Monday against 135th-ranked Steve Darcis of Belgium — 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.”
His early defeat rendered moot all the debate in the preceding days about whether Nadal’s No. 5 seeding was appropriate or whether Wimbledon officials should have bumped him higher because of past success at the grass-court tournament.
In five appearances at Wimbledon from 2006-11 (he missed the 2009 edition because of knee trouble), Nadal reached the final five times. He won the 2008 and 2010 championships, and was the runner-up to Roger Federer in 2006-07, then to Novak Djokovic in 2011.
Because of Nadal’s low-for-him seeding this time — his ranking slid during his time off — he wound up in the same half of the draw as seven-time champion Federer and second-seeded Andy Murray. A possible Nadal-Federer quarterfinal loomed, as did a potential Nadal-Murray semifinal.
So much for that.
“Pretty irrelevant right now,” said Murray, who won in three sets Monday, as did Federer. “It’s obviously surprising. But, you know, the consistency that Rafa, Roger, Novak have shown in the Slams over the last five, six years, it’s going to be almost impossible to keep that up forever.”
Two days before Wimbledon started, Nadal spoke about having more trouble on grass than other surfaces lately because its low skids force him to bend his knees so much to reach shots. Nadal decided to skip a grass-court tuneup tournament between the French Open and Wimbledon, opting to rest instead, and arrived in England on Tuesday to begin preparing in earnest.
On Monday, he said, “I didn’t move the way I need to if I’m going to win on this surface.”
Nadal avoids discussing health issues in the immediate aftermath of a defeat — he didn’t reveal the left knee injury last year until weeks after the Rosol match — and Monday was no different. Still, anyone who watched Nadal play Darcis could tell something wasn’t right.
Nadal deflected three questions in English about his left knee, saying it’s “not the day to talk about these kind of things” and that it would sound like “an excuse.” When a reporter asked in Spanish about the knee, Nadal replied: “You’re assuming I’m injured.” He later did repeat what he mentioned at Roland Garros, which is that the knee is painful at times.
“Maybe he was not in the best shape ever. Maybe he didn’t play his best match,” Darcis said, noting that he wants to get his hands on of a DVD of the most significant victory of his career. “But I have to be proud.”
While Nadal was struggling, Federer and Murray looked the way title contenders are supposed to 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.
In the most noteworthy women’s result, fifth-seeded Sara Errani, the 2012 French Open runner-up, lost 6-3, 6-2 to Puerto Rican teenager Monica Puig. Maria Sharapova, the 2004 Wimbledon champion, won in straight sets. So did second-seeded Victoria Azarenka, but not without a scare.
- Local Sports
Bobcats, Catamounts drop twinbills
Salisbury scored a pair of runs in the bottom of the eighth to hand Frostburg State its first loss, then pounded out 20 hits in the second for a 4-3, 19-4 sweep of their Capital Athletic Conference baseball twinbill on Saturday.
There’s no place like home, or Hagerstown
It took 40 minutes and was an uphill struggle, but in the end Allegany turned what had been a house of horrors into one full of high fives and joyful celebration.
BJ Curtis fires 795
BJ Curtis rolled a 300 game on his way to a 795 series at White Oaks to lead area scoring. Darren Durbin was just one pin back with 794, also at White Oaks. Troy Smith shot 782 at The Bowler, Cary Lowery had 772 at White Oaks and Aaron Courtney shot 300 on his way to 763 also at White Oaks. Mike Sipple rolled the third 300 of the night in White Oaks Industrial League during a very high scoring week.
- Sports Calendar - 03/10/2014
Allegany survives, wins region thriller
The Allegany Campers refused to take no for an answer Saturday afternoon, and in a game full of twists and turns, heroes off the bench and dramatic overtime endings, beat Manchester Valley in double overtime, 63-62, for the Class 1A West Region championship and a trip to next week’s state tournament.
Southern does it again!
Something felt awfully familiar with the Southern girls basketball team Saturday, but the Lady Rams are right at home with familiarity and are extremely satisfied with the status quo that comes with winning their second straight Maryland 1A West Region title.
McDonogh holds off Good Counsel, 39-37
McDonogh took a 31-16 lead into halftime, and looked to have complete control before Good Counsel cut the lead down to 10 points by the start of the fourth and got to within two points at the end, a 39-37 McDonogh win in the championship game of the Bishop Walsh Girls Invitational Tournament.
Martz, Shaffer win state titles
Mountain Ridge’s Adam Martz put the finishing touches on a perfect season by winning a state championship, and Southern Garrett’s Austin Shaffer also returns home a state champ after a big weekend at the Class 1A-2A State Wrestling Championships at the University of Maryland.
- Sports Roundup - 03/09/2014
- Sports Calendar - 03/09/2014
- More Local Sports Headlines
- Bobcats, Catamounts drop twinbills