Serena Williams opens Wimbledon with win

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

WIMBLEDON, England -- Wimbledon began with a few surprises Monday. There was lots of sunshine, Serena Williams wore a raincoat anyway, and Roger Federer's changeover routine was interrupted by a friendly visit from his opponent.

The tennis went mostly as expected. Federer, Williams and new women's No. 1 Ana Ivanovic won in straight sets. Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic also eased into the second round, while American men went 1-4.

The top-ranked Federer began his bid for a sixth consecutive Wimbledon title by winning the first match on Centre Court. Sporting a classy cardigan, he stepped onto the fresh grass promptly at 1 p.m. and looked eager to dispel the notion he's in decline, winning the first 11 points and beating former doubles partner Dominik Hrbaty 6-3, 6-2, 6-2.

During a changeover one game from the finish, the 30-year-old Hrbaty broke with protocol by wandering over to the seated Federer.

"I looked over and there he was," Federer said. "He asked if [he] could sit next to me. I said, 'Sure. There's no problem. There's an extra seat.' We go way back. ... He said it might be his last Wimbledon, so it was almost a little bit emotional."

Said Hrbaty: "If it had been someone else, I wouldn't have done it. ... We've had a lot of good times together. I just wanted to tell him he's a great friend of mine, and I appreciate that."

Federer extended his grass-court winning streak to 60 matches, including 35 at the All England Club, and yet his continuing domination is in doubt because he struggled the first half of the year.

That might help explain his prematch jitters.

"I did feel all of a sudden a little pressure about two minutes before I went on court," Federer said. "I felt like, 'Wow, OK, here we go. Let's try to get off to a good start.' I did."

He looked as regal as ever in his warmup outfit, highlighted by a beige, four-button sweater with gold trim and a stylized F on the left breast.

But judging from postmatch interviews, Federer was upstaged on the fashion front -- perhaps a further sign he's in decline. His apparel inspired only one question, while Williams fielded five queries about the stylish white trench coat she wore onto court before beating Kaia Kanepi 7-5, 6-3.

There were only three questions about Williams' match, even though it provided a bit of drama when she faced a break point serving at 5-all in the first set.

Kanepi, an Estonian who reached the French Open quarterfinals, takes lusty swings that often put two-time champion Williams on the defensive. But Williams endured the onslaught and took charge after Kanepi double-faulted to end the first set.

"Today definitely was not an easy match," Williams said. "She was playing unbelievable. I felt like she wasn't making any errors. I just felt like I just had to hang in there and stay positive."

The match was the first for the Williams sisters since they lost on the same day in the third round at the French Open. They flew from France to Florida and prepared for grass by hitting on hard courts.

The unorthodox preparation for Wimbledon is standard for the sisters and not to be questioned -- they've won the title six of the past eight years.

"We just go home and practice in the hot sun," said Serena, who is seeded sixth. "We're so ready to leave Florida. We're like, 'We're going to do anything we can to stay at the tournament as long as we can so we don't have to go back in that heat.'"

Defending champion Venus Williams begins her bid for a fifth Wimbledon title today when she faces wild card Naomi Cavaday of Britain.

Ivanovic played her first match as the No. 1 woman and French Open champion, and the 20-year-old Serb seemed comfortable in the new role, beating Rossana de Los Rios 6-1, 6-2.

"Becoming No. 1 takes more pressure, but also you have to see pressure for what it is," Ivanovic said. "It's a reflection of your own ambition. If you see it as a positive thing, it means that you put yourself in a position to do something memorable. So if you look at it that way, it can be very motivating."

The three highest-ranked Americans -- Andy Roddick, James Blake and Mardy Fish -- are scheduled to play their opening matches today.

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