Rafael Nadal was on the receiving end of a monumental Wimbledon upset for the second straight year on Monday, being dumped out of the tournament before its opening day was through.
Little known Belgian Steve Darcis was Nadal's conqueror on Court One, ripping through their clash in straight sets, 7-6 (7-4), 7-6 (10-8), 6-4, and condemning the 12-time Grand Slam champion to his first-ever defeat in the first round of a major.
"Nobody was expecting this," Darcis said in a television interview. "Rafa did not play his best tennis today. I think if you start to focus on him it is tougher. I tried to focus on myself and what I had to do and I think I did great today."
Just two weeks removed from winning the French Open for a record eighth time, Nadal was brought crashing back down to earth as Darcis, ranked 135th in the world, clinched the first and second sets in tense tiebreakers, then broke early and held his nerve to secure the third.
The stunning events provided Day 1's most captivating storyline, and erased the possibility of a mouthwatering quarterfinal between Nadal and Roger Federer, the man he beat in one of Wimbledon's greatest ever matches – the 2008 final.
Nadal's seeding of No.5 was a result of his time off tour to fix injury issues and was criticized by former players such as John McEnroe as it put him, Federer and home favorite Andy Murray all in the same half of the draw.
Yet evidence is growing that either Nadal is no longer the same force on grass as the version that lifted the trophy in 2008 and 2010, or that people have worked out that he is not unstoppable on the surface.
Twelve months ago is was Lukas Rosol of the Czech Republic who figured out the puzzle in a gripping five-set, second-round match that went deep into the evening on Center Court. Back then, Rosol played the match of his life, and Darcis produced the same here.
Big serving, ferocious ground strokes and a smattering of luck was what was needed for the 29-year-old journeyman, who has only once reached the third round of a major event, to get the job done.
As with any upset, a lack of belief was the greatest obstacle to overcome. Darcis suffered a wobble when serving at 4-3 up in the third, but staved off a break point and clinched the game with a gutty serve-volley.
Nadal's pedigree speaks for itself, a player who is not only a superstar of his generation but one of the all-time greats and one of only a handful of men to win each of the majors.
But for all his experience, tenacity and supreme shot-making ability, Nadal, who was 34-0 in the first round of major tournaments heading into Monday's match, just didn't have an answer here. The tiebreakers could have gone either way but the third set break was Darcis' most telling blow.
A couple of sloppy forehands, struggles with the first serve, and the Belgian had the lead. His serve, just like Rosol's last year, was imperious, and Nadal, one of tennis' great returners, simply could not get into it.
Darcis wrapped it up with an ace, looked to the skies and sunk to his knee and with Wimbledon 2013 just hours old, its biggest shock was already in the books.