James Lawton at Wimbledon 2013: Rafael Nadal badly out of tune as Nowhere Man Steve Darcis seizes his chance

'It happens that this is sport. I tried my best but it was not possible for me'


Had it happened on the Centre Court, where twice he has communed with the gods of his game and on one occasion beat Roger Federer in the final that some will always believe was the greatest match ever played, the fall of Rafa Nadal here on Monday might have been a little more wrenching.

But here we are discussing the finest of degrees. If you were there in Court One, the likelihood is that you are still numb from the impact of his three-set defeat by a slight figure from nowhere, with thinning hair and baggy pants and a manner which would seemed mild enough if he had been attending a social evening at the neighbourhood tennis club.

Yet sometimes something quite astonishing happens in the lives of relatively ordinary men.

They have one moment that persuades them that perhaps they might just do something that will always be remembered. And then they add to that something with equally remarkable boldness and, then before they know it, they are no longer men from nowhere.

They are, like 29-year-old Steve Darcis from Liège, Belgium, men who will always carry more than a little substance right down to the last of their days.

Darcis, ranked 135th in the world and whose greatest achievement before stepping out on the grey and chilly Wimbledon afternoon was to beat the formidable Czech Tomas Berdych in a round of the Olympics last year, will now always be known as the man who stopped Nadal in the middle of one the greatest, most inspired comebacks tennis had ever seen.

He did it in two hours 55 minutes of astonishing self-belief and you were bound to ask from where it came. Maybe it was a beautifully delicate backhand that skipped along the line as though it was sprinkled with stardust. Or an ace slipped into a growing stream of confident tennis. Whatever its source, Darcis had new strength and a willingness to forget the stature of the man across the net in favour of a growing conviction being voiced by thousands of new fans. It said that he too could play, at least one afternoon in his life, some quite extraordinary tennis.

So many times Nadal, who had come back from a grey, aching seven months of pain and rehabilitation of chronically troublesome knees to win the prize he has virtually made his own, the French Open on the red clay of Paris, seemed to be reasserting himself.

Yet each time Nadal found some of his most basic strength, a withering cross-court forehand, a virtuoso swoop at the net, Darcis summoned up a response. He played shots that became as decisive as anything Nadal could produce and as the match wore on to its climax, the body language of the Belgian grew ever more positive.

He had come on to the court almost sheepishly, rushing ahead of his opponent as though to leave the ground between the great hero and his public quite untouched by any other presence, but in two tie-breaks and in the face of a desperate attempt by Nadal to fight his way out of trouble in the third set he was utterly unmoved. For a little while at least he had lost his anonymity and it was nothing he was about to accept back without the fight of his life.

Towards the end, Nadal, who had familiar strapping on his left knee, began to show a hint of hobbling, perhaps confirming the suspicions of many that he might indeed suffer the effects of his comeback from the crisis which engulfed him here last year with a second-round defeat by the equally unheralded Lukas Rosol.

But the man from Majorca showed no inclination to question, or devalue, the meaning of his conqueror's 7-6, 7-6, 6-4 victory. Some days you might just light up the sky with the quality of your play, as he certainly did when he beat Federer in that unforgettable final of 2008, and on others you might feel that a tide is flowing against you. Maybe a man from nowhere has identified himself as a serious opponent ready to ride the moment and the day.

Nadal said: "It happens that this is sport. Sometimes you play well and have the chance to win. Sometimes you play worse and the opponent plays well and you lose. That is a good thing about sport and times like this it is all you can say. It is not the right day [for me]. I tried my best out there every moment, but it was not possible for me this afternoon. The opponent played well and I had my chances but I couldn't make it."

Darcis could make it in any way that was required. As the evidence mounted that Nadal's frustration was running bone deep, the Belgian found buoyancy that could not have been imagined when he made his self-effacing entrance. He punched the air when the winning points began to accumulate around the pivotal moments.

On numerous occasions Nadal produced reminders of the great force of his game, the superb timing and resilience and flashpoints of power guaranteed to drain the confidence of any opponent, right up to Federer and Novak Djokovic. Yet, quite stunningly, Darcis absorbed them and then responded in kind.

Increasingly, the shoulders of Nadal began to wilt. As he pointed out later, he had feared the return to grass because of the need to reached lower and put more stress on his embattled knees. What he could not have anticipated, not in the worst mood of foreboding, was that he should encounter as man as inspired and as fearless at Steve Darcis.

According to his own modest view of himself, Darcis had entered his name for a second-tier Challenger tournament in the wake of his brief Wimbledon appearance. He would taste a little of the big sporting life, he would brush against the demigod Nadal, and then he would go about the business of eking out a living.

It was the destiny, after all, of the man in the baggy pants and the thinning hair, and it was before he made his run from nowhere.

sportSo, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll as Agnes Brown in the 2014 Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas special
tvCould Mrs Brown's Boys have taken lead for second year?
Arts and Entertainment
Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz in Tim Burton's Big Eyes
film reviewThis is Tim Burton’s most intimate and subtle film for a decade
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
Arts and Entertainment
Madonna is not in Twitter's good books after describing her album leak as 'artistic rape and terrorism'
music14 more 'Rebel Heart' tracks leaked including Pharrell Williams collaboration
Rooney celebrates with striker-partner Radamel Falcao after the pair combine to put United ahead
footballManchester United vs Newcastle match report
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all