For the second consecutive year, Rafael Nadal made a shockingly early exit at Wimbledon.
When he was knocked out in the second round a year ago, Nadal was battling a knee injury and admitted this week that he was “not yet ready to play.”
On Monday, the first day of play at Wimbledon, he was upset again, this time in the first round as he appeared again to be battling some sort of leg injury. The fifth-seeded Nadal lost in the first round of a major for the first time in his career, falling to Steve Darcis. An unseeded player from Belgium, Darcis won 7-6 (7-4), 7-6 (10-8), 6-4.
Nadal refused to discuss whether he was hurt, saying it was difficult to adapt his game to grass with little time to prepare after winning the French Open two weeks ago.
“It’s not the day to talk about these kinds of things,” he said in a press conference after the match. “I am confident I will be ready for the next tournament. I played much more than what I dreamed … after the injury, so that’s fantastic and a very positive thing for me.”
Even Darcis admitted his upset was stunning. “I think the same,” he joked in a BBC interview. “Nobody was expecting my win today. … Rafael didn’t play his best tennis today and I knew the first match on grass is always difficult. For me it’s a big win. I tried to do what I like to do: come to the net as soon as I can and not play too far from the baseline.”
Darcis did not, he said, try to capitalize on Nadal’s increasing problems with his knee. “If you start to focus on him, it’s tougher. I tried to focus on myself and what I like to do.”
Even if he chose not to speak about it, Nadal never appeared comfortable in the match and, as it progressed, was trying to avoid putting weight on his left leg.
A year ago, Nadal lost to Lukas Rosol and missed the Olympics as well as the U.S. and Australian Opens. He returned to action in February and won his eighth French Open. Going into his Wimbledon match, he was 43-2 in 2013 but called it “a transitional year.”
“I will compete here as good as possible. I’m gonna try my best, then we will see what’s next for me,” said Nadal, now 50-13 on grass, in a press conference over the weekend. “I haven’t completely decided my schedule after here, because I have to analyze a little bit more what’s more or less favorable for my future.”