x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Nadal holds Centre Court as Wimbledon starts

The defending champion is watched by his parents as he sees off Russell in straight sets and so does Venus Williams.

Rafael Nadal, the world No 1 and defending champion, looked comfortable yesterday.
Rafael Nadal, the world No 1 and defending champion, looked comfortable yesterday.

Rafael Nadal opened his Wimbledon title defence with a convincing victory yesterday, 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 running of the championships.

Nadal, coming off his sixth successive 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 consecutive 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 on to Centre Court as the 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."

Venus 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 against Akgul Amanmuradova of Uzbekistan.

"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."

Vera Zvonareva, the 2010 runner-up, downed the 115th-ranked American Alison Riske 6-0, 3-6, 6-3. Italian sixth seed

Francesca Schiavone survived a scare to see off Jelena Dokic 6-4, 1-6, 6-3 under the closed Centre Court roof due to rain.