LONDON — In one of Wimbledon’s greatest upsets, an ailing Rafael Nadal was knocked out in straight sets Monday by a player ranked 135th — the Spaniard’s first loss in the opening round of a Grand Slam event.
Steve Darcis of Belgium stunned the two-time champion 7-6 (4), 7-6 (8), 6-4. He ended Nadal’s 22-match winning streak and eliminated one of the Big Four of men’s tennis on the first day of the grass-court Grand Slam.
In other first-round matches, Roger Federer, Andy Murray, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and John Isner all advanced.
Nadal was sidelined for seven months with a left knee injury after losing in the second round of Wimbledon last year. He seemed to be struggling physically. He was unable to turn on the speed or use his legs to spring into his groundstrokes, limping and failing to run for some shots.
Darcis was as surprised as everyone else with the result.
“Rafa Nadal didn’t play his best tennis today,” the 29-year-old Belgian said. “The first match on grass is always difficult. It’s his first one. Of course, it’s a big win. I tried to come to the net as soon as I could, not play too far from the baseline. I think it worked pretty good today.”
Nadal was coming off his eighth championship at the French Open last month, but on this day, he never looked like the player who has won 12 Grand Slam titles and established himself as one of the greatest players of his generation.
It’s the second straight early Wimbledon exit for Nadal, who was ousted in the second round last year by 100th-ranked Lukas Rosol.
After that loss, Nadal took the rest of the year off to recover from the knee problem. Since returning to action this year, he had made it to the finals of all nine tournaments he entered, winning seven.
After winning the French Open, Nadal pulled out of a grass-court tuneup in Halle, Germany. He came to Wimbledon without any serious grass-court preparation.
Nadal declined to blame any injury and gave full credit to Darcis, who had never beaten a top-5 player before and has yet to go beyond the third round of any Grand Slam.
“I don’t … talk about my knee this afternoon,” Nadal said. “Only thing that can say today is congratulate Steve Darcis. He played a fantastic match. Everything that I will say today about my knee is an excuse, and I don’t like to put any excuse when I’m losing a match like I lost today.”
Darcis is the lowest-ranked player to beat Nadal at any tournament since Joachim Johansson — ranked No. 690 — defeated the Spaniard in 2006 in Stockholm.
Gustavo Kuerten, in 1997, was the last reigning French Open champion to lose in the first round at Wimbledon.
“The opponent played well,” Nadal said. “I had my chances. I didn’t make it. So in grass (it’s) difficult to adapt yourself, to adapt your game. When you don’t have the chance to play before, I didn’t have that chance this year, is tougher. I didn’t find my rhythm.”
Darcis, who had won only one previous match at Wimbledon, played the match of his life Monday, going for his shots and moving Nadal from corner to corner. Darcis amassed a total of 53 winners, compared with 32 for Nadal.
Darcis finished the match in style, serving an ace down the middle — his 13th — as Nadal failed to chase after the ball.
“Nobody was expecting me to win,” he said. “So I had to play a good match, relax, and enjoy the game. That’s what I did.”
Earlier, Federer began his bid for a record eighth title at the All England Club with the same dominance that has defined his grass-court greatness.
Ten years after his first Wimbledon championship, Federer opened the tournament on Centre Court as defending champion and looked right at home as he dismantled Victor Hanescu of Romania 6-3, 6-2, 6-0.
This was a grass-court clinic from Federer that lasted 68 minutes. He had 32 winners, seven aces and just six unforced errors.
He won 90 percent of the points when he put his first serve in. When his serve is clicking, Federer usually is unbeatable. On this day, he won his first 15 service points and 24 out of the first 25.
“I’m happy to get out of there early and quickly,” Federer said. “So it was a perfect day.”
Second-seeded Murray of Britain defeated Benjamin Becker of Germany 6-4, 6-3, 6-2.
Murray lost to Federer in last year’s final. He is bidding again to become the first British man to win Wimbledon since Fred Perry in 1936. Murray broke his opponent five times and served 11 aces.
“It was a tough start for me. He is a very good grass player,” Murray said. “I was ready and to win in three sets was a good start. There’s always nerves at the start of a Grand Slam and I’m glad to get it out of the way and hopefully I can improve as it goes on.”
Sixth-seeded Tsonga of France eased into the second round with a 7-6 (4), 6-4, 6-3 win over David Goffin of Belgium.
Tsonga served 18 aces and hit 48 winners on Court 2.
Marathon man Isner finished a quick Grand Slam match for a change, beating 66th-ranked Evgeny Donskoy of Russia 6-1, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (2).
The 6-foot-9 Isner, who is seeded 18th, had 22 aces with just one double-fault. He didn’t face a break point.
The match took only 1 hour, 43 minutes — a far cry from Isner’s record-breaking 11-plus-hour, 70-68 fifth-set victory over Nicolas Mahut in the first round at the All England Club in 2010.
Isner has left each of his past five Grand Slam tournaments with five-set defeats, including at the French Open on June 1, when he saved 12 match points against Tommy Haas before losing the 13th.
A year after stunning Nadal at Wimbledon, Rosol lost his first-round match against a qualifier ranked 121st.
Rosol, who came in ranked 35th, was beaten 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 (5), 6-7 (4), 6-4 Monday by Germany’s Julian Reister.
The Rosol-Reister match was on tiny Court 19, a short walk from Centre Court, where the then-100th-ranked Rosol pulled off a surprising five-set victory over two-time Wimbledon champion Nadal in 2012’s second round.
Against Reister, Rosol played the same sort of high-risk game he used so successfully against Nadal. This time, Rosol was not nearly as accurate, accumulating 74 unforced errors, 30 more than Reister.
Last year, Federer equaled Pete Sampras and William Renshaw with seven Wimbledon titles. He is contending to become the first man to win the tournament eight times, which would bring his total of Grand Slam titles to 18.
In an upset of a smaller scale Monday, former champion Lleyton Hewitt ousted 11th-seeded Stanislas Wawrinka of Switzerland 6-4, 7-5, 6-3.
Playing his 15th consecutive Wimbledon and his 57th Grand Slam overall, Hewitt made the most of his opponent’s mistakes to progress. Wawrinka had 44 unforced errors and exited the tournament in the first round for the fifth time.
Hewitt won the title at the All England Club in 2002.
In keeping with tradition, Federer had the honor of playing the first match on the sport’s biggest stage as the reigning men’s champion. This was the seventh time he strode out first on Centre Court.
“It’s slightly different,” he said. “Nine years ago when I came out the first time, it was the most special thing in the world. It still feels amazing. It was an absolute pleasure playing on Centre Court.”
Federer came out wearing a white collared jacket with orange trim, then quickly got down to business. He never faced a break point and broke six times.
Federer has a habit of making things look easy. And so it was in the opening game when, stranded at the net, he reached behind him for a reflex forehand volley that landed in for a winner. In the third set, Federer lifted a perfect backhand lob over the 6-foot-6 Hanescu for a break and a 5-0 lead.
Also advancing among the men were No. 10 Marin Cilic and No. 15 Nicolas Almagro. Janko Tipsarevic, seeded No. 14, lost to fellow Serb Viktor Troicki, 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (5).