BIRMINGHAM, England — Both Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal have crashed out of their Wimbledon tune-up tournaments on Thursday. However, the losses don’t come as a huge surprise, given the players’ deep runs at the French Open and quick transitions to the grass courts.
Murray, who played Nadal in the French Open semifinals, stumbled against Czech veteran Radek Stepanek at the Aegon Championships, squandering eight set points in the first set to eventually lose 7-6 (10), 6-2 and snapping his 19-match winning streak on grass courts.
The defending champion broke serve early in the match, only to hand the break right back. He then built a seemingly unsurmountable 6-2 lead in the tiebreak, but the unforced errors crept in, allowing Stepanek to level the tiebreaker at 6-all. The Czech would save four more set points before finally stealing the set with a forehand volley. He then broke Murray right away in the second set and raced away with the match.
“I have only got myself to blame that I lost the first set,” Murray admitted. “I don’t know how many set points I had, but quite a lot of them were on my serve. “On this surface especially you shouldn’t really be losing sets like that. For me, that’s what’s disappointing really about the match. Then, unfortunately, got broken in the first game of the second set. I couldn’t quite get it back.”
This marks the third time Murray has been unable to defend his title at Queen’s Club, having won in 2009, ’11 and ’13, and the first time that the Scot has lost on grass since an emotional ’12 Wimbledon finals against Roger Federer. After that loss, Murray bounced back to win Olympic gold at the All England Club, then ran the table last year, winning both Queen’s Club and Wimbledon.
Meanwhile things didn’t go much better for French Open champion Rafael Nadal, who lost his opening match at the Gerry Weber Open in Halle, Germany, 6-4, 6-1, to No. 85 Dustin Brown. Nadal, who immediately hit the courts upon arriving in Halle on Monday, rightfully foreshadowed that this would probably not be his best showing.
“I don’t want to miss it two years in a row,” Nadal told reporters in Paris after winning his ninth French Open title on Sunday. “At the same time, is the right way to prepare Wimbledon. So I really want to do it and try my best there. We will see what’s going on. I know probably the result will not be the perfect one there, because days of preparation are not the right ones. After how tough physically was the match of today, probably will be more a little bit tired.”
Nadal had never played the athletic Brown before, and grass is the German’s best surface. The match lasted just one hour, with Brown breaking Nadal to take the first set and then building a 5-0 lead in the second before closing it out. With the victory, Brown joins Nikolay Davydenko as just the second player in the top 100 to boast a winning record over the Spaniard.
The last time Nadal won on grass was in the first round at Wimbledon in 2012. He lost to Lukas Rosol in the following round that year, and then he fell to Steve Darcis in the first round of Wimbledon last year.
Murray and Nadal’s losses came after Roger Federer suffered a scare in his opening match in Halle, coming back from a set down to beat Joao Sousa 6-7 (8), 6-4, 6-2. Federer will play Lu Yen-Hsun on Friday.