However, he failed to play a grass-court warm-up event after withdrawing from Halle, Germany, and it showed as he looked way short of his best against Darcis, who seized his chance in ruthless fashion.
“At the end it’s not a tragedy. That is sport,” Nadal told reporters, refusing to discuss his physical well-being. “The only thing that I can say today is congratulate Steve Darcis. He played a fantastic match.”
Darcis turned professional two years after Nadal and, while the Spaniard’s career has been spent in the stratosphere, he has inhabited a level more in keeping with Belgium’s lowlands.
However, proving just how deep the talent pool is in the men’s game he played three incredible sets of risk-taking tennis to scale the heights on Centre Court.
He did beat Tomas Berdych at the Olympics last year, on the same court, but topped that display against Nadal to record only his second win against a player in the top 10.
Darcis, who has a shark tattoo on his arm, said his first reaction on seeing the draw was: “Shit,” but there was no hint of inferiority as he outplayed the 2008 and 2010 champion.
“Maybe he [Nadal] didn’t play his best match, but I have to be proud of me, I think,” Darcis said. “I played a great match and I fought from the beginning till the end, and I played unbelievable tennis.”
Murray’s no-nonsense victory over Becker was the only home success, with the other six British players in action on Monday all losing.
His potential quarter-final foe, sixth seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, beat Belgium’s David Goffin 7-6 (7/4), 6-4, 6-3.
As the light faded, former champion Lleyton Hewitt showed the fire in his belly burns as bright as ever when he took out 11th seed Stanislas Wawrinka in straight sets to give a boost to Australian spirits after a week of cricket and rugby union woes.
“It’s good that I can put on some sort of show, that they can get pretty pumped up out there,” Hewitt said.
In yesterday’s early matches, Serena Williams delivered a statement that no one can argue with: When her powerful serve is clicking, she’s still the woman to beat at the All England Lawn Tennis Club.
Williams looked every bit the five-time champion as she began her title defense with a routine 6-1, 6-3 victory over Mandy Minella of Luxembourg.
As usual on grass, the top-ranked Williams dominated with her hard serve, winning the first set without dropping a single point on her service game. Her main weapon let her down only at the start of the second set, when Minella was able to take a 2-0 lead when Williams double-faulted on break point.
She was one point from going down 3-0, but then won 15 of the next 18 points to take a 4-2 lead and broke again to wrap up the win.
“For me, it’s the greatest moment for a tennis player, to walk out on Centre Court,” Williams said after her first match at Wimbledon since winning Olympic gold last year. “That was such a great moment too. So many great memories on this court.”
Earlier, 42-year-old Japanese veteran Kimiko Date-Krumm had an even easier time getting past an opponent, German teenager Carina Witthoeft, less than half her age, 6-0, 6-2 in just 44 minutes.
Date-Krumm is the second oldest player to have won a match at Wimbledon after Martina Navratilova, who was 47 when she reached the second round in 2004. The 18-year-old Witthoeft was making her Grand Slam debut.