LONDON -- He was coming off yet another title at Roland Garros and had been to five Wimbledon finals in as many appearances, winning twice.
Rafael Nadal was ranked No. 2 two years ago when he encountered a nondescript player from the Czech Republic in Wimbledon's second round. His name was Lukas Rosol. In the swift span of 198 minutes, the world No. 100 briefly became something of a household name.
He blasted 22 aces and stunned Nadal in five sets, winning exactly two more points than the dogged Spaniard in one of the greatest upsets in tournament history.
"I'm sorry for Rafa," Rosol said after his signature win, "but today I was somewhere else."
He wasn't the only one. Nadal, who was clearly out of sorts, was philosophical.
"Is not a tragedy," he said. "Is only a tennis match."
A weary Rafa said he was heading home to Mallorca for "rest I need and deserve."
Nursing a serious left knee injury, he didn't play a tennis match for seven months. We now know that there was life after that sudden death. Rafa and his knees are just fine.
One of the sport's great charms is the tasty reunions it consistently offers up, and Thursday featured a retro classic between the 6-foot-1 Nadal and the 6-5 Rosol, both aged 28. And then Rosol won the first set and had a set point in the second-set tiebreaker.
Lightning never strikes twice in the same place, right? It's a scientific fact. Right?
Nadal managed to prevail 4-6, 7-6 (6), 6-4, 6-4, and after he converted his third match point he reared back, on his toes with fists clenched at his sides, and screamed, perhaps more out of relief than joy.
The stage play ran 2 hours, 44 minutes, but it felt a lot longer.
"Just try to keep fighting, to wait for my moment, find my moment," Nadal said afterward, when asked what he was thinking when contemplating that enormous hole. "I saved set point in the tiebreak, [which] was very important. If not, a player like Rosol, big server, two sets down is big, big danger."
In an interview with the BBC that aired before the match, Rosol smiled as he watched a replay of the 2012 match. He almost sounded confident.
"It's possible," he said of another victory. "It's a sport. Until the last point, the game is open. After this match [in '12], I know I can play with any player. When my game is working I am difficult to play.
"I start to understand more that every player can play with the top three, top five. Before, I'm thinking, 'Don't lose with a zero, zero, one.' Now, I think I can win. I know I can win."
And that's pretty much how the match began. With Pippa Middleton watching from the royal box, Rosol crowded Nadal, made him uncomfortable. As the set grew to fruition, Rosol grew more confident; he started hitting rhythmic winners and his serve strengthened. With Nadal serving at 4-all, Rosol converted his third break-point opportunity when Nadal hit an awkward forehand into the net. Rosol closed the set out at love.
Rosol was asked earlier by the BBC if he feared Nadal.
"Why should I fear?" he answered. "I have nothing to lose. He can fear."