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WIMBLEDON, England -- Back on one of tennis’ top stages, Venus Williams cut a familiar figure Monday at Wimbledon, from her latest original, somewhat-see-through outfit to her trademark booming serves and aggressive groundstrokes.
Williams smacked seven aces at up to 118 mph, totaled 23 winners to only five unforced errors, and overwhelmed 97th-ranked Akgul Amanmuradova of Uzbekistan 6-3, 6-1 in the first round at the All England Club.
The seven-time major champion recently was off the tour for about five months with a bum hip, including missing the French Open, and this is only her fourth tournament in nearly a year.
“It’s a good place to start. And this is kind of like a home for her. She loves it,” said Williams’ hitting partner, David Witt. “She feels confident out here, and in women’s tennis, ‘confident’ goes a long way.”
There sure was nothing shy about a playsuit Williams called “trendy”: white and sleeveless, with a deep “V’’ neckline, a triangle cut out in the back, a gold belt and gold zipper.
“Jumpers are very ‘now,’” she explained, “as is lace.”
Not as sensational as the corset-like black lace number with skin-toned undergarments that drew so much attention at the 2010 French Open, but Monday’s romper looked something akin to a toga and surely would have won the approval of her Roman goddess namesake.
“She always has something interesting,” said the 6-foot-3 Amanmuradova, a rare opponent taller than the 6-foot-1 Williams. “It’s good to have something different on the tour. I wear shorts, and everybody is criticizing that I look like a guy. ... If she feels comfortable, perfect. Personally, I wouldn’t wear this, because it’s not going to look good on me. But if it’s white, you can play. That’s the rule. If everybody wears the same, it’s boring.”
Williams’ outfit and, of course, superb play, which betrayed no lingering effects from her injury generated the most buzz on Day 1 in the 125th edition of the grass-court Grand Slam tournament.
“I do realize I don’t have as many matches,” said Williams, only 5-2 this season and only 9-3 since last July. “So, yeah, for sure, I know I need to kind of come out firing. Been pretty good at that in the past and today.”
Others reaching the second round included 10-time major champion Rafael Nadal, whose parents sat in the Royal Box during his 6-4, 6-2, 6-2 victory over 90th-ranked Michael Russell of Houston; No. 4 Andy Murray, and No. 10 Mardy Fish.
It was Nadal’s first chance to play the tournament’s opening match on Centre Court, an honor given to the defending men’s champion, and something he called a “big emotion.” Bad knees forced Nadal to withdraw in 2009, a year after he won Wimbledon for the first time.
He was more blase about his parents’ special seats, saying: “It doesn’t make any difference to me whether I see them in my (guest) box or in the Royal Box. But I think it was a beautiful experience for them.”
Nadal now faces another American, 69th-ranked Ryan Sweeting of Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., who dropped the first two sets against Pablo Andujar of Spain before coming all the way back to win 3-6, 4-6, 6-1, 7-6 (1), 6-1.
It’ll be Sweeting’s third match against Nadal this year. Nadal won the others in straight sets, including at the Australian Open.
“They keep putting me up in the top half of the draw. I don’t know what the deal is,” Sweeting said. “What can I say? He’s obviously one of the toughest opponents to play on any surface.”
The second question at Nadal’s news conference concerned whether he believes Murray, Roger Federer or Novak Djokovic is likeliest to thwart his title hopes.
“My biggest opponent is Sweeting now. I am focused on my part of the draw. I’m focused on myself. To play against Andy or Djokovic or Federer only can be in the final; against Andy in the semifinals,” the Spaniard replied. “So let’s talk about today. Let’s talk about tomorrow. ... Let’s (not) talk about ... 10 days or 12 days (from now), because I don’t know if I am here or I am fishing in Mallorca.”
Four seeded players exited Monday, including No. 28 Ekaterina Makarova of Russia, who was beaten 2-6, 6-1, 8-6 by 19-year-old Christina McHale of Englewood Cliffs, N.J. McHale entered the day 1-6 in Grand Slam matches. No. 17 Kaia Kanepi lost to Sara Errani 6-1, 6-4, No. 22 Shahar Peer was eliminated 5-7, 6-4, 6-4 by Ksenia Pervak, and No. 30 Thomaz Bellucci was sent home in straight sets by 35-year-old Rainer Schuettler, the oldest man in the field.
Otherwise, the most significant development probably was the rain that began falling at about 5 p.m., resulting in the suspension of 14 matches in progress and the postponement of 17 others.
And Tuesday’s forecast calls for more rain.
Two matches were played under the retractable roof, which was added to Centre Court before the 2009 tournament. That included two-time Wimbledon semifinalist Murray’s 4-6, 6-3, 6-0, 6-0 victory over 59th-ranked Daniel Gimeno-Traver of Spain. Murray is trying to give Britain its first male champion at any Grand Slam tournament since 1936, and he overcame a slow start against Gimeno-Traver, a first-round loser for the eighth time in 12 major tournaments.
Earlier, in a match tied 1-1 in the third set when rain began falling, Francesca Schiavone the 2010 champion and 2011 runner-up at the French Open beat Jelena Dokic 6-4, 1-6, 6-3.
“For me, personally, Wimbledon is with no roof,” said Schiavone, who said she got a chance to get advice from her coach during the 50-minute delay in action while the court was covered. “But it’s great for English people to have the roof.”
Williams stopped one game into her third-round match at the Australian Open in January after aggravating her hurt hip. She returned to action last week at a grass-court tuneup tournament in Eastbourne, going 2-1 there, and Monday looked nothing like someone who was rusty.
Because she hasn’t played much at all over the last 12 months, Williams thought she “had a little pressure on me to come out and swing as usual.”
She made zero unforced errors in the second set, taking the last six games and the last 12 points. She claimed 15 of the final 17 points she served.
“On her serve, it was almost impossible,” Amanmuradova said, opening her eyes wide. “I actually never played anyone on the tour serving as hard and as fast as she does.”
Williams, once ranked No. 1, dropped to 33rd this month. She’s at No. 30 this week, but was seeded 23rd as a nod to her five Wimbledon titles and a career record at the All England Club that’s now 69-9.
“I’m smarter, if anything, than five years ago,” said Williams, who turned 31 Friday. “More and more players are starting to realize that it’s an advantage to be able to play longer, because then you actually understand the game.”
If that’s so, her second-round opponent understands things even better than Williams does. That’s because Kimiko Date-Krumm is 40; her 6-0, 7-5 defeat over British wild-card entry Katie O’Brien was her first victory at Wimbledon since reaching the 1996 semifinals.
Date-Krumm retired that year, then returned to the tour in 2008.
“It was amazing when she came back. ... I always root for her, actually,” Williams said. “But this time ... I will be rooting for me.”