Seven years have elapsed since the Mallorcan last exited a grand slam before the third round – the Spaniard going down to Luxembourg's Gilles Muller in the second round at SW19 during 2005 – but at around 10.15pm last night unheralded Lukas Rosol of the Czech Republic changed all that.
Over an exhilarating three hours 18 minutes of play, the 26-year-old from Brno shocked the world by showing that the king of clay does in fact possess feet of clay. For all his heroics at Monte Carlo, Barcelona, Rome and Roland Garros earlier in the year, the last time Nadal won a title on any other surface than clay was back in Tokyo in October 2010. That suddenly seems like a lifetime.
Having said all that, whatever way you analysed Rosol's stats pre-match, it was utterly unthinkable that he could prevail against the Spaniard. As creditable as his four-set first-round victory over Croatia's Ivan Dodig had been, it was his debut in the Wimbledon main draw, having crashed out in the first round of qualifying on five previous occasions. Last night's victory over Nadal not only equals his best grand slam performance, but the furthest he has got in any ATP-tour standard competition.
Typically, Nadal was philosophical. "The last four months were great for me," he said. "It was probably one of the best four months of my career; I played unbelievably in the clay-court season. You arrive here, you play against an inspired opponent and I am out. That's all. It is not a tragedy. It is only a tennis match. I feel very well mentally. But I have played for the last six months playing almost every match possible in the tournaments that I played. Physically I need to stop a little bit."
Fom the start, something was different last night. The Mallorcan had to recover from the loss of his first four games against Thomaz Bellucci in the first round, but from early on his body language seemed off, his normally zen-like demeanour disturbed.
Rosol seemed to sense the mortality of his opponent and played with the confidence of the tennis gods. Having secured his break of serve in the fifth game, it was un-Nadal like in the extreme that he should let his opponent recover parity, and even more so that he should be facing set points in a lengthy, topsy-turvy tie-break. This he duly secured 11-9, but Rosol was far from downhearted. The Nadal serve was surrendered at the start of both the second and third sets, and suddenly we had a match on our hands.
The Mallorcan won back the momentum only for that hard-won impetus to disappear into the south-west London air. In the dying light, the decision was taken to put on the roof, and almost three-quarters of an hour had elapsed by the time the combatants re-started the action. "I was surprised because it takes 30 to 45 minutes," Nadal said. "My feeling was that it is completely new stadium with new roof, so the normal thing is cover the roof in five-10 minutes."
The Nadal serve was broken in the first game of the decider and, although he has never been higher than 65 in the world, Rosol served it out without blinking. His last two service games were to love, the Czech player diving to the Centre Court turf in celebration.
Like all good champions, the Spaniard didn't give out with a fight. The two men bumped chests at a change of ends, with Rosol last night claiming it had been a deliberate attempt at gamesmanship. Nadal refused to talk about the issue for fear of being accused of making excuses, but admitted the umpire had said "a few things weren't right".
"It was okay, he just wanted to take my concentration," the Czech player said. "I knew he would try something but I was concentrating and I was not upset."
Rosol, who was cheered on by girlfriend Denisa Rosolova, the 400m European champion, said he had played as if "in a trance" and praised his coach Slava Dosedel, his countryman and former world No.26.
"My expectations before were just to play three good sets," he said. "And not lose 6-0, 6-1, 6-1. I'm sorry for Rafa but tonight I was someone else. I believed in myself, I knew I could make it. It is like some B team in the Czech Republic can beat a team like Real Madrid."