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Nadal, Venus Williams win opening-round matches

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POSTED: June 20, 2011 1:24 p.m.

WIMBLEDON, England (AP) — Rafael Nadal opened his Wimbledon title defense with a convincing victory Monday, beating Michael Russell 6-4, 6-2, 6-2 on a "fantastic" day while his parents watched from the Royal Box.

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 begin 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-sets 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 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.

It was the first time Nadal has walked onto Centre Court as defending champion. After winning the title for the first time in 2008, he missed the tournament the following year with a knee injury.

"Fantastic," he said. "Seriously, I never played in a court like this. (It) was a big emotion to be the first player to play in this fabulous court. It was a very, very exciting feeling."

Watching from the Royal Box were Nadal's parents, Sebastian and Ana Maria.

"Too many beautiful things to see my mom and my dad in the Royal Box,'" Nadal said. "I think for them (it) was a great experience. So, everything in general was very, very nice today."

While Nadal and Williams played in mostly sunny conditions, the first rain delay of the tournament came in late afternoon. Sixth-seeded Francesca Schiavone and Jelena Dokic were at 1-all in the third set on Centre Court when play was halted by the showers.

The retractable roof, which has been in place since 2009 but rarely used, was then closed and the match was to resume in covered conditions. It was unclear when, or if, play would resume on the other courts.

Also due on Centre Court later was Andy Murray.

Williams, who played at Eastbourne last week after an injury layoff of nearly five months, looked right at home in winning 6-3, 6-1.

She 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, Williams 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 6-foot-3 and can hit 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 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 had been sidelined after injuring her hip at the Australian Open. She had 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 downed 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 and closed the match with an ace.

The first seeded man to lose was No. 30 Thomaz Bellucci of Brazil — 7-6 (3), 6-4, 6-2 to 35-year-old German Rainer Schuettler, the oldest player in the men's draw.

Sixth-seeded Tomas Berdych, who lost to Nadal in last year's final, moved into the second round with a 6-2, 6-2, 6-1 win over Filippo Volandri of Italy. He served 12 aces.

Tenth-seeded American Mardy Fish beat Spain's Marcel Granollers 7-6 (3), 7-6 (5), 6-4. Big-serving Canadian Milos Raonic, playing his first Wimbledon, topped Marc Gicquel of France 6-3, 7-6 (3), 6-3. No. 14 Stanislas Wawrinka defeated Potito Starace of Italy 6-3, 6-4, 6-4.

Other winners included two Frenchmen — No. 9 Gael Monfils, who beat Matthias Bachinger 6-4, 7-6 (3), 6-3, and No. 17 Richard Gasquet, who defeated Santiago Giraldo 7-5, 6-3, 7-6 (3).

 

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