Dashing Darcis dices up Nadal in Wimbledon first round upset

Steve Darcis celebrates  (thanks to www.spelaspel.se)

Steve Darcis celebrates
(thanks to www.spelaspel.se)

Steve Darcis, the 29 year old Belgian ranked 135 in the world, has not been up to much on the ATP tour this season, winning only one main draw match. But today, playing against the two time former Champion Rafael Nadal on court number one, Steve Darcis got up to something quite big, winning as he did 7-6, 7-6, 6-4.

Darcis’ grass court form did not come out of nowhere. In 2012 he made the semi-finals of Eastbourne and, a couple of months later, he beat Tomas Berdych in the first round of the Olympics. Darcis’ game, one which has taken him as high as 44 in the world, has strengths which grass rewards. First, there is his big serving, which in this match delivered 13 aces and won him 74% of his first serve points. Then there are his powerful ground-strokes struck from inside the baseline and followed up with forays to the net. Such qualities made him a dangerous opponent in the first round for an opponent who had not played a professional match on the grass this season. But dangerous is about as far as most people thought it would get for Nadal, the very recently eighth-time crowned Roland Garros champion and a five time Wimbledon finalist.

Darcis was certainly in the right place at the right time for a historic win. Nadal, as his defeat to Lukas Rosol last year testified, is most vulnerable in the first week of Wimbledon when the Grass is at its fastest, its bounce at its lowest, more trying on the knees. But Rosol was a rare breed, an opponent blessed with great grass court skills and the strength of mind to seal the deal, succeeding where many had failed. Close escapes by Nadal against lowly ranked players such as Hendrick, Hasse and Petzschner in final-making years were down to the Spaniard’s improved serving and slicing skills and his refusal to go down without a fight but in those days the knees were able to better withstand the pressures of playing on grass. Last year and this year though Nadal has not proven to be the superman he once was.

Darcis though was stronger than he has been for a while. In the first set, Darcis stayed with Nadal all the way to the tiebreak, and the closer matters got, the louder the murmurs of an upset grew. Those murmurs became quite excitable when the Belgian got the better of his illustriously decorated opponent, the prospect of an unlikely upset ahead.

Darcis grew in confidence, his play more fitting of the status of the fifth seed than a man struggling out in the hundreds. The Belgian kept on playing aggressive, high risk tennis, breaking the Spaniard at the business end of the second set. But Nadal, reminding us of his famous never-say-die spirit, broke back. In the tiebreak though it was Darcis whose game was more alive, producing as he did the more attacking-minded play, play which saw him take the set and lead the Spaniard by two sets to love.

Inspired, Darcis went on the break Nadal in the opening game of the third set. And run as Nadal did, he could not run enough to chase down the flatly struck backhands and heavy forehands that fired his way and past him. Darcis held his nerve where others had failed as he ran away with the lead. The Belgian held his serve to put himself into the position to serve out for the match at 5-4. Darcis, who had been smiling throughout the match earned himself three match points and sealed what will go down as one of the biggest upsets in Wimbledon history with an ace.

His victory lit up on the scoreboard, Darcis’ face was lit up with yet another smile. Only his second victory at the Championships, a historic one, too, being Nadal’s first first-round defeat in 35 starts at Majors. A famous victory worth smiling about, one wonders how big the smiles were on the faces of Murray and Federer. In a game where match-ups are everything, the removal of their Major bete-noir will aid their title hopes no end. Darcis though might have something to say about those chances, his inspired play and confidence suggesting he will not shy away from removing those smiles off their faces and keeping his own lit up on the Grass courts of SW19.

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Christian Deverille

Christian Deverille is a tennis writer with a diploma in Freelance Sports Writing from the London School of Journalism. He loves all things tennis, most of all the Federer and del Potro forehands.

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