LONDON – Men’s champion Novak Djokovic barely broke stride to clear a potentially tricky first hurdle at Wimbledon as he opened Centre Court action on Monday but five-times women’s winner Venus Williams’ suffered an ignominious exit.
The 126th edition of the grasscourt grand slam began in virtually perfect weather conditions and with a faultless display by world number one Djokovic who crushed Spain’s Juan Carlos Ferrero 6-3 6-3 6-1.
Twelve months after beating another Spaniard, Rafa Nadal on the world’s most famous tennis court to win his first Wimbledon title, Djokovic looked like he had never been away with a clinical display on the pristine lawn.
At about the same time as the Serb was polishing off Ferrero, 32-year-old Williams was experiencing the bitter taste of a first round defeat at a tournament she has so often graced since her debut in 1997.
A 6-1 6-3 defeat by Russian Elena Vesnina was a rather sad sight for fans on the bowl-like Court Two, some of whom had queued from the early hours of the morning to grab a ticket for the more intimate show court.
She went 5-0 down in quick time and trudged around the court with a resigned air against the doubles specialist.
“I feel like I’m a great player but I have to deal with circumstances that other people don’t have to deal with in the sport,” Williams, who finished 2011 outside the world’s top 100 after battling with injury and Sjogren’s syndrome, a little-known disorder that causes fatigue and joint pain.
“There’s no way I’m just going to sit down and give up just because I have a hard time the first five or six freaking tournaments back,” added the former world number one who only returned to action after a seven-month lay-off in March.
“I’m as tough as nails.”
There were no alarms for women’s favourite and top seed Maria Sharapova, the newly-crowned French Open champion, as she breezed past Australia’s Anastasia Rodionova 6-2 6-3.
Iron-man Djokovic dropped serve in the third game against 32-year-old Ferrero, the former French Open champion, but quickly found his range from the baseline to dispatch the Spaniard without expending too much energy.
Playing in his first competitive match since losing to Nadal in a rain-hit French Open final, depriving him of the collection of all four grand slams, Djokovic crunched 34 winners and sped through the final set in just 25 minutes.
Fellow Serb Janko Tipsarevic also made it through to the second round, beating David Nalbandian 6-4 7-6 6-2.
At least Argentine Nalbandian, who reached the Wimbledon final on his debut in 2002, completed the match.
His challenge at the Queen’s Club tournament earlier this month had ended in farcical circumstances when he was defaulted in the final for gashing the shin of a line judge after booting a wooden advertising podium.
Samantha Stosur, one of 11 grand slam champions in the women’s singles draw, eased into the second round.
The U.S. Open champion beat Spain’s Carla Suarez Navarro of Spain 6-1 6-3 while China’s Li Na, the 2011 French Open champion, also dropped just four games against Ksenia Pervak.
Six-times men’s champion Roger Federer begins his challenge against Spain’s Albert Ramos later on Monday.
Williams, and some of the other losers over the next couple of weeks, will be comforted by the fact that they will get another chance on the grass at the end of July when the London Olympics tournament is held at the All England Club.