FORMER world No1 and two-time Wimbledon winner Rafael Nadal refused to blame a chronic knee injury for his shock straight-sets defeat to Belgian Steve Darcis, after losing in the opening round of a grand slam for the first time in his career yesterday.
Despite winning the French Open for a record eighth time earlier this month, Nadal still showed signs of the tendinitis that kept him out of action for seven months following last year’s surprise second-round exit at SW19 to debutant Lukas Rosol.
And while rivals Andy Murray and Roger Federer were winning at Queen’s and Halle last week, Nadal was recovering from his Roland Garros exploits and failing to gain much-needed practice on grass.
The 27-year-old looked laboured around the court as he lost 7-6, 7-6, 6-4 to the unheralded world No135 Darcis, yet refused to pinpoint his injury trouble as the reason for defeat.
“I’m not going to talk about my knee,” said fifth seed Nadal. “The only thing I can say is congratulations to Steve Darcis. He played a fantastic match. Everything that I will say about my knee is an excuse. He deserves not one excuse.
“On grass it’s difficult to adapt your game. When you don’t have the chance to play before, it’s tougher. I didn’t find my rhythm.”
Third seed Roger Federer made a supreme start to his men’s singles title defence, and bid for a record eighth Wimbledon crown, with a straight-sets win over 31-year-old Victor Hanescu in just 68 minutes.
Even the powerful serve from the 6ft 6in Romanian did little to trouble Federer, who broke at the first attempt in each set to win 6-3, 6-2, 6-0, dropping just four points in the third.
“Overall I played a good match, no hiccups on the serve,” he said. “I returned good, sometimes aggressive.
“I’m happy to get out of there early and quickly so it was a perfect day.”
Australia’s Lleyton Hewitt, the 2002 champion, has fallen to No70 in the world, yet made light work of No11 seed Stanislas Warwinka, winning in straight sets, 6-4, 7-5, 6-3.
No14 seed Janko Tipsarevic suffered a surprise defeat to fellow Serbian Viktor Troicki, but last year’s semi-finalist Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and No10 seed Marin Cilic cruised through.
The big shock in the women’s draw saw fifth seed Sara Errani beaten 6-3, 6-2 by Puerto Rican teenager Monica Puig. However, Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka, seeded second and third respectively, comfortably reached round two.