By HOWARD FENDRICH, Associated Press
LONDON (AP) — So good for so long on the clay at the French Open, where he's won 59 of 60 career matches, Rafael Nadal is suddenly mediocre on Wimbledon's grass, where he's surprisingly been beaten twice in a row.
What a 15-day swing for Nadal: from a record eighth championship at Roland Garros to a quick-as-can-be exit at the All England Club in the only first-round Grand Slam loss of his career.
Noticeably limping and generally out of sorts, Nadal departed Wimbledon with a 7-6 (4), 7-6 (8), 6-4 loss Monday against 135th-ranked Steve Darcis of Belgium — a shockingly early and straightforward result that ranks among the most memorable upsets in the grass-court tournament's history.
"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."
Shaking his head as he leaned back in a black leather chair at his news conference, Nadal said: "Nobody remembers the losses. People remember the victories. And I don't want to remember that loss."
Others surely will.
"As a fan of tennis, it's probably disappointing that he's out, because he's a fun guy to watch," reigning U.S. Open champion Andy Murray said after his straight-set victory Monday. "He's one of the best players that's ever played, so it's a shame in that respect."
Indeed, Nadal's 12 Grand Slam titles are tied for the third-most in tennis history. That includes two trophies from Wimbledon, in 2008 and 2010, part of a six-year stretch in which he reached the final five times from 2006-11.
But a year ago, Nadal lost in the second round to Lukas Rosol, a player ranked 100th at the time. After that setback, Nadal missed about seven months because of a bad left knee. Since returning, he had gone 43-2 and reached the finals at all nine tournaments he entered, winning seven.
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, after his 22-match winning streak came to a sudden halt, 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."
That's for sure.
Darcis had been 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.'"
Nadal's loss rendered moot all the debate in the preceding days about whether his No. 5 seeding was appropriate and whether Wimbledon officials should have bumped him higher because of past success at the grass-court tournament.
His ranking slid during his time off, and he wound up in the same half of the draw as seven-time champion Roger Federer and 2012 runner-up Murray. A possible Nadal-Federer quarterfinal loomed, as did a potential Nadal-Murray semifinal.