Defending champion Rafael Nadal serves during his first-round victory… (Leo Mason / U.S. Presswire )
Reporting from Wimbledon, England — Rafael Nadal was a bit of a slow starter Monday at Wimbledon, finding himself down a service break in the first set to 31-year-old journeyman Michael Russell. But that was only a momentary falter, and it really didn't take long for top-seeded Nadal to beat the American and advance to the second round.
Nadal won the match 6-4, 6-2, 6-2 in 1 hour, 58 minutes, and it was a solid start for the Spaniard in his title defense.
By the finish, Nadal was smiling big, having earned appreciative whistles from the crowd.
"Fantastic" was how Nadal described being the first to play on Centre Court in 2011. "Fantastic to see the court in really, really perfect conditions," he said. "Was a big emotion to be the first player to play on this fabulous court."
In the second round, Nadal will play another relatively unknown American, Ryan Sweeting. Sweeting needed to go five sets before beating Pablo Andujar of Spain 3-6, 4-6, 6-1, 7-6 (1), 6-1.
There was an almost-upset on the women's side.
Second-seeded Vera Zvonareva, who was runner-up last year, needed three sets to beat upstart American Alison Riske, a 20-year-old from Pittsburgh. Riske was aggressive, willing to volley and almost always hit for the lines, a style that got her into the match but wasn't quite enough to clinch a win. Zvonareva won 6-0, 3-6, 6-3.
Having an easier time of it in her opener was five-time champion Venus Williams. The 31-year-old, who had mostly been missing from the circuit since suffering an abdominal injury at the Australian Open, served seven aces and beat Akgul Amanmuradova of Uzbekistan 6-3, 6-1.
Williams also made a fashion statement. She wore a lacy little white thing she called "a jumper." It had sleeves that resembled the wings of a bat and a long slit in the back.
"Jumpers are very now, as is lace," Williams said. "The shoulders have a lot of draping, which is also in the moment. It's just kind of like a trendy dress. It's fun. I'm really into zippers, so it has like a focal point of a zipper in the front. It's just fun."
There was also a redemptive moment for a young American.
Christina McHale, 19, had led Italian Sara Errani 5-0 in the third set of her first-round French Open match before losing 6-7 (4), 6-2, 9-7.
Monday, McHale kept her nerves and upset 28th-seeded Russian Ekaterina Makarova 2-6, 6-1, 8-6.
McHale, from Englewood Cliffs, N.J., was grinning Monday.
"I'm excited to have pulled that one out," she said. "It definitely feels much better. I was just trying to focus on each point. That's something I learned from that loss in Paris."
Not too long after McHale finished her match, rain put a halt to almost all the action. For the third time in history, the roof over Centre Court was put up. It allowed sixth-seeded Francesca Schiavone to finish off a 6-4, 1-6, 6-3 win over Jelena Dokic and allowed fourth-seeded Andy Murray to be able to play his first-round match against Daniel Gimeno-Traver.