Nadal a man in a hurry at SW19

RAFAEL NADAL stayed up late to watch his friend Rory McIlroy win golf’s US Open but was still fresh enough to start the defence of his Wimbledon title with a straight-sets win over Michael Russell yesterday.

Nadal and McIlroy’s friendship started when they met at the US Open last September.

As McIlroy lifted his maiden major title at Congressional, it was approaching 12.30am at SW19.

Nadal was at his base in London, keeping his eyes open long enough to watch the 22-year-old’s staggering eight-shot victory.

He sent McIlroy a text message to congratulate him on his triumph and is looking forward to meeting him over the coming days, with McIlroy planning to visit Wimbledon upon his return from America.

When asked if he had heard from McIlroy in the aftermath of his win, Nadal said: “No, I texted him a message. You know how when you win a tournament like this, how many messages you have on the phone.

“He did amazing. He played solid yesterday, doing what he had to do all the time, no mistakes. In my opinion, it was the perfect round of golf.

“Hopefully I will have the chance to congratulate him in person.”

A master of his own sport, Nadal wasted little time in booking a second-round meeting with Ryan Sweeting, easing past the unheralded Russell 6-4 6-2 6-2.

The world number 90 forced the first break of the match in the sixth game when Nadal double-faulted. But that only served to spur the 25-year-old into life, and he broke back twice in a row to take the opening set, before taking the first game of the second against the serve to take an early stranglehold on that.

Having found himself given the runaround by Russell’s hard-hitting style in the opener, Nadal mixed up his shot selection in the second set, and the introduction of the sliced backhand allowed him to dominate.

When Nadal took his total number of breaks to seven in the third set, the game was up.

With injury having prevented him from defending his title in 2009, yesterday was Nadal’s first chance to open play on Centre Court as the reigning champion.

“It was fantastic,” he said. “Seriously, I have never played on a court like this. There was big emotion to be the first player to play on this fabulous court. It was a very, very exciting feeling.”

Home favourite Andy Murray overcame a spirited challenge from Daniel Gimeno-Traver under Wimbledon’s Centre Court roof to win their first-round encounter 4-6 6-3 6-0 6-0 last night.

With rain bringing an early end to play elsewhere on the opening day, all eyes were on the fourth seed, who was expected to breeze through against Spain’s 11th best player.

However, Gimeno-Traver had other ideas and made Murray’s life distinctly uncomfortable for a set and a half before the Scot, who had struggled in his only previous match under the roof two years ago, turned things around in style, reeling off 15 games in a row.

“I didn’t think I started that badly, but he was hitting the ball very, very big. But once I got ahead, I relaxed and played very well. There were a lot of rallies and I learned a few things out there.”

Big-serving Canadian Milos Raonic began his Wimbledon career with three straight aces and could pose a threat to Rafael Nadal if the two meet in the third round.

Raonic put in a destructive performance to overcome world number 119 Marc Gicquel in straight sets, following the 11th-hour withdrawal of his original first-round opponent Fabio Fognini due to a thigh injury.

The 20-year-old sent down 25 blistering aces on his way to beating the Frenchman 6-3 7-6 (7/3) 6-3 in his first appearance at the tournament.

The man Nadal beat in last year’s final, Czech player Tomas Berdych, was in supreme form against Italian Filippo Volandri, the sixth seed cruising to a 6-2 6-2 6-1 success.

Ninth seed Gael Monfils of France was another straight-sets winner, 6-4 7-6 (7/3) 6-3 over Germany’s Matthias Bachinger.

American 10th seed Mardy Fish sank Spain’s Marcel Granollers 7-6 (7/3) 7-6 (7/5) 6-4, and France’s Richard Gasquet overcame Colombian Santiago Giraldo 7-5 6-3 7-6 (7/3).

In the women’s, Venus Williams eased into the second round and claimed years of experience makes her more dangerous than ever.

Williams, who turned 31 on Friday, hardly broke sweat as she swept aside Akgul Amanmuradova 6-3 6-1 in their first-round showdown on Court Two.

The five-time Wimbledon champion is playing only her second tournament since withdrawing from the Australian Open with a hip injury and improved as the match against her Uzbek opponent progressed.

She believes years of competition have left her perfectly equipped for this stage of her career.

“I’m smarter than I was five years ago. The beauty of being able to have a long career is being able to use the experience that you learn on the court,” the 23rd seed said.

“It’s an advantage to be able to play longer, because then you actually understand the game.”

Second seed Vera Zvonareva also made it through, after last year’s runner-up was given a stern examination by US youngster Alison Riske before triumphing 6-0 3-6 6-3. The 26-year-old next meets fellow Russian Elena Vesnina.

Former French and US Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova fought back from a set down to defeat Zhang Shuai 3-6 6-3 6-4 while 19th seed Yanina Wickmayer saw off Varvara Lepchenko 7-5 6-3.

Sixth seed Francesca Schiavone was grateful for a rain break as she survived a difficult first-round clash with Jelena Dokic at Wimbledon. With the deciding set tied at 1-1 and deuce on her own serve, Schiavone welcomed the hold-up, and gained composure to pull off a 6-4 1-6 6-3 victory.

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