STEVE DARCIS d. RAFAEL NADAL 7-6 7 – 6 6 – 4
A Belgian journeyman named Steve Darcis joined 2012’s Lukas Rosol in the record books, though a step higher. Darcis, on the first day of Wimbledon 2013, handed Rafael Nadal- reigning French Open Champion- his first ever opening round defeat at a Grand Slam. His previous earliest exit was to Rosol on the same grass a year ago.
Darcis entered Wimbledon- his favorite surface apparently- after winning just two ATP level matches all year. He was losing Challenger matches in Spring, and at 29, the future seemed to be destined to be an untouched story in the journeyman-biopic –archives: one of thousands of average sportsmen refusing to accept that greatness is beyond them.
But on Monday, Darcis played for all those athletes, and played some stunning tennis to dismiss the two-time Wimbledon Champion in straight sets. These men and women decide to become athletes at an early age, not to lose matches all their lives, but because the addiction of winning is so strong. Any sport is played to experience victory, not to taste defeat and accept the tediousness and mediocrity associated with a regular 9-to-5 job. It is the intoxication of feeling special enough to go for greatness, to believe that your existence is all part of an immortal plan. The effort required just to be counted as an equal is more than the effort required to even achieve greatness in certain other professional fields- there is no real equality.
Like many other jobs/fields, sports too has its fair share of below average athletes, players that are destined to remain on the fringes all their lives- an equivalent of not being promoted for decades working in the same position at the same bank branch. The difference is- these athletes aspire for greatness from day one, having to do abnormal things and adhere to relentless discipline only in order to reach the ‘normal’ heights of pro-tennis or football. That is when the real journey starts- self discoveries follow only after that, and heights or depths of class and quality are only then revealed. To reach that level, sacrifices not associated with the regular Joes are made- risks are taken just to enter that arena of competition, on centre court or in a World Cup minnow team. They do not settle for anything less, hence the acceptance of not having won a dime of trophies till they are past their prime- must be the hardest thing to face as a professional tennis player. There are players like Federer, on 77 titles, for whom going without a title for 6 months is a disaster- and then there’s Darcis and a few others, who have played all their lives to make up the numbers at a Major.
Nicolas Mahut, famous for playing the longest match in tennis history at Wimbledon 2010 against Isner, was one of those journeymen- refusing to accept average stature, mediocrity almost, at age 32, not having won a single ATP title. Till last week. For them, that is their Grand Slam- that single title is what they worked for, were fooled for, got delusional for and defied greatness for years. Mahut finally won his first ever title, defeating Wawrinka- a top 10 player- in the final on grass.
Darcis last won a title in 2007, and hadn’t ever gone past a 3rd round in a Slam in his career. And here he is, the conqueror of Nadal in biggest first round upset in Wimbledon history- punching above his weight for just one day in his career. He knows where he belongs, and it is as his ranking of 135 suggests- nothing higher- but if anything, for those years of belligerence and madness, Darcis probably deserved this 1 day as much as that 65 year old desk clerk at your local bank does- like a sort of farewell party thrown by seniors appreciating his contribution to his company for 35 years.