Tennis

Venus starts strong at Wimbledon

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Richard Evans

Richard Evans has covered tennis since the 1960s, reporting on more than 150 Grand Slams. He is author of 15 books, including the official history of the Davis Cup and the unofficial history of the modern game in "Open Tennis." Follow him on Twitter.

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LONDON

Day One at the All England Club meant very different things to different players.

For Venus Williams it was a win in what she describes as a white jumper with a peek-a-boo back; for Michael Russell it was five minutes of fame on Centre Court against the world No. 1 and, for Kimiko Date-Krumm, a record-breaking Wimbledon win at the age of 40.

Venus found herself on early call at noon sharp on the new No. 3 Court — a small, compact arena which has replaced the old No. 2 Court, nicknamed the Graveyard of the Stars. Maybe that genie was carted away with the old concrete because Venus had few problems handling the powerful game of Akgul Amanmuradova, a 26-year-old from Uzbekistan whose name is as long as her body is tall. The score was 6-3, 6-1.

2011 US Open

2011 US Open

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Venus put it all down to how well she has been hitting the ball in practice and the matches she had in Eastbourne. "I don't think things could have gone as well for me today had I not been at Eastbourne," she said. "I had some long matches. That was great. I was so happy about that."

Venus admitted that she had been reluctant to call her mother last month when she was making her decision to come back and play in England after her hip injury. "Yeah, I avoided calling my mom because she said 'You're not trying to come back too soon are you?' Bullying me about it. So this time I couldn't come back too soon or I'd be in the same situation as I was in Australia. That was painful; not something to go through twice."

Next up, Venus will be playing someone she admires, the amazing Date-Krumm who became the third oldest woman to win a singles match at Wimbledon when she outplayed Britain's Katie O'Brien 6-0, 7-5.

"I thought it was amazing that she came back," Venus said of the Japanese player who took years off from the tour to get married and lead a 'normal' life. "I watched her results. I always root for her, actually. But this time I'm playing her so I will be rooting for me!"

Date-Krumm started so quickly that she embarrassed O'Brien, winning the first set in just 17 minutes. O'Brien got better but never threatened to prevent her opponent from winning her first match at Wimbledon in 15 years.

"Of course I remember 1996 on Centre Court — I played Steffi Graf and it was darkness. I played two days with her. It was a big, big memory for me. Then after 15 years I win first round. It's already a miracle!"

Michael Russell needed a miracle against Nadal and hopes of achieving one actually flickered faintly for a few minutes. Obviously fortified by an early lunch of chicken breast and rice, the 33-year-old American broke the defending champion's serve and found himself leading 4-2 in front of 15,000 people on the world's most famous tennis court. This must have come as something of a shock for a man who has been playing most of his tennis this year at Challenger level in places like Honolulu and Savannah.

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It didn't last as Nadal fought back to clinch a 6-4, 6-2, 6-2 victory, but the Spaniard gave his opponent credit. "I think he started playing really well," said Nadal. "Aggressive with good returns. I started, in my opinion, trying to play too fast in the beginning. But after that I started to find more rhythm with the slice, trying to play a bit longer points, trying to hit the forehand when I had the chance."

Inevitably Nadal had plenty of chances and will probably get plenty more when he plays another American, Ryan Sweeting, who produced the day's best comeback, recovering from a two-set deficit to beat Spain's Pablo Andujar 3-6, 4-6, 6-1, 7-6, 6-1. But, for the moment, Rafa is refusing to look to far forward.

"Let's talk about today or tomorrow," he said. "Let's not talk about in 10 or 12 days because I don't know if I am here or I am fishing in Mallorca."

It was said humorously but the fact is that many people feel Nadal is not quite as confident right now as he has been in the past. Winning the French Open again certainly helped put him back on track, but there is no doubt his psyche has been bruised by losing in four consecutive ATP Masters Series finals to Novak Djokovic this year — especially as two of them were on clay. Nadal has proved himself to be a fine grass-court player but if things get difficult, as they could quite quickly if he has to face a huge server like Milos Raonic, his level of confidence may be severely tested.

Raonic, incidentally, only discovered who he was playing — Marc Gicquel — 45 minutes before going on Court 14. The Frenchman was called up to replace Italy's Fabio Fognini who was hurt in Paris and Raonic knew very little about him.

"So I had to find a way," said the 20-year-old Canadian, who has enjoyed a meteoric rise up the rankings this year after starting at around 185 before find himself ranked 25th in the world going into Wimbledon. "It was quite difficult because he plays quite low to the ground. It was hard for me to sniff out my chances and be aggressive and come in. But I'm happy with how I responded to it." Raonic won 6-3, 7-6, 6-3.

Raonic is a Pete Sampras fan and remembers watching his idol beat Patrick Rafter in the 2000 final. "I was nine then and I remember a lot about the match. But it wasn't even just that. I could tell you stats about him. I think he holds the record here for winning 88 straight games. Stuff like that about him."

Chances are, in 10 years, we will be talking about records Raonic has set. He looks like a prospective champion.

The weight of expectations was clear for all to see as Andy Murray appeared under the roof on Centre Court to play Daniel Gimeno-Traver as the rain teemed down outside. Gimeno-Traver is a Spaniard who is ranked No. 56 in the world; whose grass court record is 2-7 and who began 2011 by losing in the first round of his first nine tournaments.

Yet, for a set and a half he played better than Murray. And although the Spaniard struck the ball well and scored with some great forehands, he played that well because Murray allowed him to.

To the bewilderment of the crowd and his group of trainers and coaches, Murray let Gimeno-Traver engage him in a baseline battle that might as well have been played on a clay court.

Murray tried one drop shot that missed; never went to the net and returned poorly.
So at 6-4, 3-3 to Gimeno-Traver there was a bit of tension in thre air. But then Murray started to apply a little pressure and the Spaniard, who seemed to suffer from a muscle problem in his right leg, fell apart. Final score? 4-6, 6-3, 6-0, 6-0 — as big a turnaround as you could hope to see. By the end it was exhibition stuff for the Scot.

Mardy Fish had to battle through two tiebreaks before outserving the dogged Spaniard Marcel Granollers 7-6, 7-6, 6-4. Fish found it hard going because of the balls which he described as extremely heavy.

"It was frustrating," he said. "I served and volleyed on, I think, every first serve today. So I didn't get into a lot of long rallies. But it's tough to hit the ball through the court on the forehand. You've got to try and generate a lot of pace and it's hard."

It was hard for Atlanta's Donald Young, too, who found himself facing fellow American Alex Bogomolov Jr. from Chickamauga, Ga. Young is 21 and Bogomolov, 28, and experience showed as the older man came through 7-5, 4-6, 6-3, 6-1. All that happened just before the rains came.

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