Rafael Nadal took a while to warm up but made an impressive start to his Wimbledon title defence with a 6-4, 6-2, 6-2 win over American Michael Russell as the 125th championships began in fine weather on Monday.
The Spanish world number one fell behind against the 90th-ranked 33-year-old in the first set before his forehand clicked into gear on Centre Court and he powered into the second round.
Five-times women’s singles champion Venus Williams also progressed with ease as the expected rain showers stayed away and play on the outside courts began on time.
The American, just back from a five-month injury layoff, beat Uzbekistan’s towering Akgul Amanmuradova 6-3, 6-1 in calm conditions on Court 18.
Williams loped smoothly around the slick grass, hammering down big serves to leave Amanmuradova, ranked 97, still looking for her first Wimbledon win after five attempts.
Williams, at 31 one of the oldest players in the women’s draw, will have youth on her side in the second round when she plays Japan’s Kimiko Date-Krumm who beat British wildcard Katie O’Brien 6-0, 7-5.
At 40 years and eight months Date-Krumm became the second oldest player to win a singles match at Wimbledon after Martina Navratilova.Vera Zvonareva, the highest-ranked woman on view on opening day, survived a big scare when the second-seeded Russian beat American Alison Riske 6-0, 3-6, 6-3.
Defending champion Serena Williams, the seventh seed, begins her quest for a fifth singles title just a week after returning from a year out with injuries and life-threatening health problems on Tuesday when top seed Caroline Wozniacki also plays her first round.
Nadal inhabits a different tennis world to the diminutive Russell who could be described as the ultimate journeyman having trudged the lower echelons of the men’s tour since 1998.
Yet for six games the Houston-based hustler was the equal of a player with 10 grand slam titles who is looking to equal Bjorn Borg’s feat of completing the Roland Garros-Wimbledon double for a third time.
He missed a break point on Nadal’s second service game but did break the Spaniard to lead 4-2 on a Centre Court which was soon full to its 15,000-capacity.
Any repeat of last year’s opening day thriller when six-times champion Roger Federer almost fell to Colombia’s Alejandro Falla never looked likely, however, as Nadal began pummelling his opponent with mighty baseline forehands.
It was the perfect start for Nadal and he clearly revelled in being back on the court that witnessed his last Wimbledon defeat, back in the 2007 final against Federer.
“I’ve never see a court like this, it’s fantastic today,” the 25-year-old said. “Today the first set was so so but then I started to hit my forehand well.”
Raonic aces through
Canadian Milos Raonic made his Grand Slam grass-court singles debut with a 6-3, 7-6 (3), 6-3 win over Marc Gicquel.
The 31st-seeded Canadian fired 25 aces in a 96-minute effort that sent him into the second round in his first appearance at the All England club.Gicquel, who entered as a lucky loser following the withdrawal of Italian Fabio Fognin, never proved to be a threat against the 20-year-old.
Raonic swept the first set in 25 minutes and won on the first of three match points.
Roof in action
Heavy rain brought Wimbledon’s £80 million Centre Court roof into action on the first day of the 125th Championships on Monday. Rain brought a halt to proceedings at 1608 GMT. The showers also stopped play on all the outside courts.
Another Williams fashion faux pas
After keeping Akgul Amanmuradova of Uzbekistan waiting for 10 minutes, Venus Williams sauntered in wearing a white romper — an all-in-one outfit with shorts and cutout sleeves and a big triangle cut out the back. The playsuit, designed by her label Ele Ven, has a “V’’ neckline and is adorned with a gold belt and zipper in the front.
Williams said it’s a jumper, and “jumpers are very ‘now,’ as is lace.” She also likes the draping shoulders, which she calls “in the moment.” She says: “It’s just kind of like a trendy dress. It’s fun.”