— Wimbledon (@Wimbledon) June 24, 2013
That was one of the worst matches I’ve seen Rafael Nadal play in recent times. Steve Darcis played a practically flawless match, but I have to wonder about the long-term implications of Nadal’s physical problems.
Just saw @RafaelNadal walking up the stairs to the locker room, didn't look to comfortable going up them!
— rennae stubbs (@rennaestubbs) June 24, 2013
It was shocking to see Rafa play like that, coming off winning the French Open. If the grass is that hard on the knee problem, one has to wonder how he’ll be able to handle the hard courts. Hopefully, we won’t see any kind of extended absence again.
At the same time, Darcis, ranked No. 135 in the world, played some incredibly gutsy tennis in the tiebreaks and to hold onto the break in the final set. He hit some dazzling slice backhands, and did not let the fact that he struggled to convert break points early in the match get to him. He played his best tennis on the big points. It’s not easy to beat a player like Nadal at a slam, even when they aren’t at their best.
Also, it’s worth noting that Darcis has a very good career win percentage in tiebreaks (59%, compared to John Isner’s 63%). His skill in those situations was clear today, as the match really hinged on those two tiebreaks. Despite failing to convert four set points in the second tiebreak, Darcis regrouped to save a Nadal set point and calmly took a two-sets-to-love lead. Each point in a tiebreak is so pivotal, it’s important to stay completely calm and eliminate silly mental errors. Darcis’ talent at doing so was a key component of his win today.
As for Wimbledon, this significantly changes the makeup of the men’s tournament. Placing Nadal smack in Federer’s quarter made Federer’s draw look insurmountable. Now, it doesn’t look quite as bad. Murray’s path to the final also became easier.
Right now, I am just in shock. That was not the Steve Darcis we have known through the years, and it definitely was not the Rafael Nadal we’ve known through the years.
I’m not sure what just happened.
Steve Darcis was absolutely on fire, which he is capable of being. He’s won Memphis Indoors before. He beat Tomas Berdych at the Olympics last year. I had a front row seat to see him take out Roddick at the Winston-Salem Open last year. Like Rafa today, Roddick’s movement was hampered in Winston, and it was clear he wasn’t able to use his backhand effectively. Darcis exploited that. He has a compact, smart, and definitively Belgian game that can command the court despite his diminutive(ish) size.
He beat Roddick in two straight tiebreaks, so it was clear he had the guts. I’m not sure I knew how much.
It takes two to tango in upsets, though, and it’s obvious that Nadal is not at all 100% on his knee. The transition from clay to grass that he had mastered so brilliantly in the past isn’t as automatic for him anymore. His body–his knee in particular–has been through a lot over the past few years. Decline, struggle, humanity is normal. It happens to everyone.
It’s hard right now to imagine where Rafael Nadal goes from here. His comeback exceeded expectations until today. He can never be counted out. But off of clay, he is no longer a staple at the top.
But today can be about Darcis. He earned that much.