Wimbledon, Jun 20 : Rafael Nadal opened his Wimbledon title defense in convincing style Monday, shaking off an early service break and cruising to a 6-4, 6-2, 6-2 victory over Michael Russell.
In keeping with tradition, the defending men's champion played the first match on Centre Court at the All England Club—and the top-ranked Spaniard put on a worthy performance to kick off proceedings on the 125th edition of the championships.
Five-time women's champion Venus Williams, back on her favorite grass surface, also swept into the second round with a straight-set win over 97th-ranked Akgul Amanmuradova of Uzbekistan.
Nadal, coming off his sixth straight French Open title and 10th overall Grand Slam championship, double-faulted to go down a break 4-2 in the first set against the 91st-ranked Russell. But Nadal buckled down, ran off six straight games to take the set and go up a break in the second. He was in total command the rest of the way against the 33-year-old American.
“I started so-so in the first set, but after that I start to hit very well the forehand and I think I finished playing a very good level,” Nadal said.
The two players shared a laugh after Russell successfully challenged what had been ruled an ace by Nadal on match point.
Nadal won the next point, though, to finish the match in just under two hours.
Also due on Centre Court were Francesca Schiavone and Andy Murray, with Tomas Berdych and Andy Roddick scheduled on Court 1.
Williams, who returned to action at Eastbourne last week after an injury layoff of nearly five months, looked right at home at the All England Club as she beat Amanmuradova 6-3, 6-1.
Williams kept her opponent waiting for several minutes on Court 2, with Amanmuradova sitting patiently on her courtside chair for the 31-year-old American to arrive.
Once play started, Willliams took Amanmuradova apart in 59 minutes with her hard-hitting all-court game. She served seven aces, broke four times and had 23 winners to only five unforced errors—none in the second set.
“It's always great to be back,” Williams said. “To play a few matches at Eastbourne helped me feel pretty comfortable here. All in all, I'm pretty pleased. I only see pluses for today. I missed being out here playing.”
Amanmuradova, who has now lost in the first round at Wimbledon in all four appearances, is taller than Williams at 1.90 meters (6-foot-3) and can hit the ball hard.
But once Williams found her rhythm, she couldn't be stopped, winning six games in a row and the last 12 points to close out the match.
Williams made a statement not only with her tennis but with her fashion sense—wearing a one-piece playsuit which exposed some of her back. The outfit featured cutout sleeves, a deep V neckline and a gold belt wrapped around the waist.
“It's a jumper,” Williams said. “Jumpers are very ‘now,' as is lace. The shoulders have a lot of draping. It's a kind of trendy dress. It's fun. The back is a like a cutout or peekaboo. I'm always trying to do something different and fun.”
Williams, who had been sidelined after injuring her hip at the Australian Open, returned last week and won two matches at the Wimbledon tuneup at Eastbourne.
Williams has fallen to No. 30 in the rankings, but is seeded No. 23 -- the same position she held when she won the tournament in 2007. Playing in her 15th Wimbledon, she extended her record to 69-9.
Williams' second-round opponent will be Japan's Kimiko Date-Krumm, who became the second oldest women to win a match at Wimbledon, beating Katie O'Brien 6-0, 7-5 on Monday.
The 40-year-old Date-Krumm, the third oldest women to compete at Wimbledon in the Open era and the oldest in this year's draw, came out of retirement in 2008 but lost in the first round the last two years at the All England Club.
In another featured women's match, 2010 runner-up Vera Zvonareva overcame 115th-ranked American Alison Riske 6-0, 3-6, 6-3. The second-seeded Russian looked in trouble after the second set against the 20-year-old Riske, whose best career results have been on grass. But Zvonareva raised her game when she needed to and closed out the match with an ace.
The first seeded man to lose was No. 30 Thomaz Bellucci of Brazil, who fell 7-6 (3), 6-4, 6-2 to Rainer Schuettler of Germany. The 35-year-old Schuettler is the oldest player in the men's draw.
Tenth-seeded American Mardy Fish beat Spain's Marcel Granollers 7-6 (3), 7-6 (5), 6-4, while big-serving Canadian Milos Raonic, playing his first Wimbledon, was a 6-3, 7-6 (3), 6-3 winner over Marc Gicquel of France. No. 14 Stanislas Wawrinka beat Potito Starace, Italy, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4. AP