Rafael Nadal got the defence of his Wimbledon crown off to a winning start as he saw off the challenge of the unheralded American Michael Russell on Centre Court this afternoon.
The top seed brushed past the veteran world number 90 in straight sets, winning 6-4 6-2 6-2, and finding his rhythm after a wobbly opening which saw him suffer the first break of serve.
Having fallen 4-2 behind in the opening set, the 10-time Grand Slam winner broke twice in a row to take it, and then saw out the second and third sets with relative ease.
Kicking off the Centre Court action for the tournament, the pair were able to start in the open air as the forecasted bad weather stayed away, and it was Russell that excelled early on.
Nadal earned himself two break points in just the third game but was unable to take either and, with Russell hitting hard and deep, the Spaniard was soon a break down himself at 2-4.
The warning signs had been there for Nadal as he was lobbed early in the game and, after he netted to set up the break point, his double fault did Russell’s job for him.
Stung into action, Nadal immediately hit back to break in the next game, with two crunching forehands doing the damage from 30-30.
Nadal had yet to find anything approaching his best but he did not need to in the ninth game as Russell, from 40-30 up, double faulted twice and then hit long to give Nadal a second break, which he cemented to take the set.
Having ridden out his mini-wobble in the first set, Nadal took an early grip on the second and broke for the third game running first up.
A delicious forehand got him to deuce before a similar shot gave him an advantage that was cashed in when Russell netted.
Nadal was now hitting the ball a lot harder and pulled out to 3-1, a deft drop shot just centimetres from the net a highlight, while a backhand volley helped tee up another break of serve.
When Russell lost the first Hawkeye challenge of the match by the merest of margins it looked as though his resistance had been broken but, after chasing down two Nadal smashes, he was able to play a deft drop shot that helped him break back to 2-4.
Much like in the first set, though, Nadal broke back immediately and saw out the set.
Sensing the finish line was approaching, a corner-to-corner forehand from Nadal helped him take the first game of the third set – again against the serve – but Russell was determined not to throw the towel in and ran Nadal off his feet while taking the third game.
A sliced volley on the run suggested Nadal was in complete control, though, and a trademark forehand, fast, hard and deep, saw him out to 3-1 ahead.
Nadal’s sliced backhands were causing Russell all sorts of problems by now and another break, a seventh of the match, took him to 4-1.
Russell got to 30-0 on the Nadal serve as he sought one last hurrah but, with the Mallorcan now in his stride, things were quickly tuned around in his favour and he took the set, and with it the match.
Meanwhile 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.
“It’s good to win a first match in a slam, especially on grass,” Monfils said. “It takes a little bit of time to feel really good on grass, so I’m happy to win in straight sets today.”
Swiss 14th seed Stanislas Wawrinka beat Potito Starace of Italy 6-3 6-4 6-4, 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).
Milos Raonic of Canada has been touted for a successful Wimbledon career and the 20-year-old, seeded 31st, began it with a solid 6-3 7-6 (7/3) 6-3 win over Frenchman Marc Gicquel, who was called in at late notice when Italian Fabio Fognini withdrew.
Raonic served 25 aces, including three to win the opening three points of the match on Court 14.
“It was good. I think I played well. I think it’s tough always, especially being at a completely new tournament, and also being at this stage and people talking it up, how I should be doing well,” Raonic said.
“It’s not that easy just doing well right away. There’s a lot work that’s put into it, and I’m happy that it’s paying off and I’m getting on the right track.”