Fabio Fognini of Italy hits a return during his men’s singles tennis match against Alex Kuznetsov of the U.S. at the Wimbledon Tennis Championships, in London June 23, 2014. (REUTERS: Suzanne Plunkett)
LONDON — All was as it should be on the opening day of Wimbledon when returning British hero Andy Murray opened the defense of his historic title with an impressive first-round victory on Monday.
Under bright skies, with the Center Court grass glistening, his grandparents in the royal box and Murray resplendent in spotless white attire, the 27-year-old walked out to a standing ovation and rewarded his fans by dismantling Belgium’s David Goffin 6-1 6-4 7-5.
Men’s top seed Novak Djokovic, the man Murray beat in spine-tingling fashion last July to become the first home men’s singles champion at the All England Club for 77 years, also began in style, crushing Andrey Golubev 6-0 6-1 6-4 in his first grasscourt outing of the year.
Dark horse Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria, winner of the Queen’s Club grasscourt title this month, and sixth-seeded Czech Tomas Berdych both eased into the second round but there were some early casualties in the women’s draw, notably former U.S. Open champion Samantha Stosur, the 17th seed, losing to Belgian Yanina Wickmayer.
Women’s second seed Li Na suffered an early fright when she trailed 5-3 to Polish qualifier Paula Kania before completing a 7-5 6-2 victory against the world No.183 making her Wimbledon debut.
It has not all been plain sailing for Murray since that scorching Sunday afternoon when he ended decades of British men’s failure at the most famous tournament in the sport.
Spinal surgery, a split with coach Ivan Lendl and up-and-down form meant there were a few question marks over the third seed as he prepared for two weeks of Murray Mania.
But, with new coach Amelie Mauresmo watching, Murray went through his full repertoire against a lightweight opponent who played the supporting role to perfection, engaging in some eye-catching rallies without threatening to rain on Murray’s parade.
“I enjoyed it for the walk to the chair. Then when I sat down, it was time to get on with business,” Murray, seeking to become the first man to retain the title since Roger Federer in 2007, told reporters.
“I was nervous yesterday. I was probably a bit more nervous yesterday than I was today. But it does help if you can get ahead early, like I did at the beginning of the match, I got an early break, that helped settle them down a little bit.”
Only in the third set did Goffin, a more dangerous player than his 104th ranking suggests, have Murray sweating, earning two break points in the fourth game but his chance came and went before the crowd favorite turned the screws.
“I thought it was a very high-standard match. I was glad to finish it in three,” Murray, who will play Slovenia’s Blaz Rola in round two, added.
While the samba beat and carnival atmosphere dominates in the soccer World Cup in far-flung Brazil, the 128th gathering of the world’s top tennis players in suburban southwest London provided a more tranquil setting for the thousands of fans streaming through the gates.
Strawberries and cream and Pimms, rather than bikinis and caipirinhas, are the traditional currency at Wimbledon which is this year boasting record prize-money - including 27,000 pounds ($45,900) for those bowing out in the first round.
Australia’s Stosur will have to make do with that tidy sum after losing 6-3 6-4 to Wickmayer on a packed Court Three.
“I mean, in some ways it’s good and in some ways it sucks, because you’re done, you wait another four or five weeks till you get to play again,” Stosur, who has a lamentable record at Wimbledon where she has now lost six first-round matches, said.
American 18th seed Sloane Stephens, a quarter-finalist here last year, was also out before desserts were served in the posh hospitality areas, losing 6-2 7-6(6) to Russian Maria Kirilenko.
Men’s 18th seed Fernando Verdasco, who led Murray by two sets in the quarter-finals last year before succumbing, was also bundled out in four sets by Australian Marinko Matosevic.
There was an early scare, too, for Berdych, but he rallied from a set down to beat Romania’s Victor Hanescu while Dimitrov, boyfriend of Maria Sharapova, dispatched American Ryan Harrison.
Djokovic, in his first competitive match since losing to Rafa Nadal in the French Open final, made a mockery of rumors about his fitness when he won the first 11 games against Kazakhstan’s Golubev.
Crunching winners left, right and center, the Serb father-to-be was in unstoppable form as he put down an ominous marker.
“It’s never easy, you can never underestimate any opponent especially with no matches under your belt coming into Wimbledon,” he said.
“I started extremely well; serving great and just played a very good game for the first match.”