‘It was not a war; nobody died out there,” declared Boris Becker, just 19 but already a two-time Wimbledon champion, after losing in the second round in 1987 to Australian Peter Doohan. And Becker was watching from the commentary box on Monday as Rafael Nadal, another two-time winner and victim of the biggest upset since then, channelled him. ”At the end, it is not a tragedy,” said Nadal after succumbing in straight sets to obscure Belgian Steve Darcis. ”It is sport.”

Darcis clinched a shock 7-6 (7-4), 7-6 (10-8), 6-4 win to condemn the fifth-seeded Spanish superstar to a shock defeat.

Nobody died, but a legend partly did. Nadal is almost literally invincible on the French Open’s clay, but lost to a journeyman in the second round at Wimbledon last year, and now lost in the first round for the first time in any major championship, to a 29-year-old serial first-round loser with thinning hair.

How much of that legend perished is difficult to assess. At times, Nadal looked as if he was playing with his ankles tied together, but afterwards was adamant in his refusal to excuse himself because of injury, saying it was ”not the right day” and would be ungenerous to Darcis. ”Everything I would say today about my knee is an excuse,” he said, ”and I don’t want to make excuses.”

His good grace was evident courtside, where although doubtlessly distraught, he stopped to sign autographs for some of a crowd that was at once hushed and wide-eyed to have borne witness to this sliver of history. His facial complexion, simultaneously brown and grey, said what his words did not.

Nadal had won as many titles this year as 135th-ranked Darcis had played matches on the senior tour. Darcis admitted candidly that when the draw was made, his first thought to himself simply was: ”Shit!”. That is the scale of this upset. But hidden within those bald figures, there is an intrigue. After losing to Lukas Rosol here last year, Nadal was laid low by a knee injury and did not play for seven months.

His return this year was seemingly triumphant: he has reached nine finals and won seven titles, including the French, which is his in perpetuity. But there is a fine line between hardening and battering. After the French, he returned to his Spanish base rather than play a lead-up grasscourt tournament in Halle in Germany. He called it a week of rest, but it seems now that it was also rehabilitation. Nadal would not engage in speculation, saying that his heavy schedule had worked for him in the past, and that it was not as if he could turn back the clock and play Halle now.

Darcis saw a chance. He had played tour level matches, but four of them had been on grass. His best career result also was on Wimbledon’s grass, a victory over Tomas Berdych at the Olympics last year. As far as he was concerned, the grass was greener on his side.

Belgium’s tennis tradition is like its chocolate, scarce but rich. Immediately, Darcis sensed that although Nadal had come from the main locker room and he from the overflow, they were playing this day as peers. If injury is discounted, Darcis could be described as a player who matches up well against Nadal. No higher praise could be made of some of his retrieves than to say they were Nadal-like. One was from the squash manual, rather than a tennis handbook, and was a winner. As victory hove into view, Darcis struggled to compose his emotions and his face, wanting neither to tempt fate, nor to be seen to gloat. But this was his day all the way.

Still, the question of Nadal’s fitness hovered. Reasonably, Darcis was slightly arch when asked if he thought Nadal was injured. ”You have to ask him,” he retorted. We did; he wouldn’t say. But Darcis, though giddy, was not deluding himself, saying it was improbable that he would beat Nadal on level terms. ”Rafa didn’t play his best tennis,” he said. ”I could see it and I took advantage of it.”

In defeat, Nadal’s mortality was apparent. ”Is tough losing in the first round,” he said. ”But as I said, life continues, and this is a sport of victories. It’s not a sport to lose. Nobody remembers the losers. People remember the victories. And I don’t want to remember that loss.”

Darcis did; he said would make sure to secure the DVD. No one died out there, but one man had the time of his life. Darcis, 29, and nicknamed ”Shark”, had come into Wimbledon with just two wins under his belt on tour all year.

”Nobody was expecting my win today. I don’t know what to say. I’m really happy. OK, Nadal didn’t play his best tennis, but I knew the first match on grass is always difficult. For me, it is a big win.”

Nadal had warned following his Paris triumph that he was genuinely concerned over whether his knees would hold up at Wimbledon.

Darcis, who has never gone beyond the third round of a grand slam, capitalised on the Spaniard’s crippling uncertainties by sweeping through the first set tie-breaker.

Nadal broke to lead 6-5 in the second set but Darcis hit back in the 12th game before holding his nerve for a two-set lead.

Darcis broke again for 2-0 in the third set. The Belgian went to 5-3 in the decider and claimed his famous win with his 13th ace of the match.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.

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