By Toby Davis
LONDON, June 24 With all the regal splendour of a seven-times champion, Roger Federer began his Wimbledon title defence with almost casual brutality, swatting aside Romania's Victor Hanescu in straight sets on Monday.
Fulfilling the ceremonial role of striding out to open the action on Centre Court, the 17-times grand slam champion was in no mood for hanging around as he began his bid for a record eighth Wimbledon title with a 6-3 6-2 6-0 romp.
It took 68 minutes for the Swiss to book his place in the second round, but only a handful of points had passed before the result looked a foregone conclusion.
A casual volley on the jog when the ball was drilled hard behind his body wrapped up the first game to love and when Federer broke Hanescu's first service effort the Romanian's shoulders sagged disconsolately.
"I pack my bags for five sets every single time," Federer told reporters, but he could easily have left a couple of cases in the complimentary car that dropped him off at the All England Club.
Federer's serve does not always get the credit it deserves, but it combines almost effortless variety and arrowhead accuracy, putting him on the front foot against all but the very best returners.
Hanescu is not in that bracket and his modest ranking of 48 obscured a cavernous gulf in class.
He had claimed a solitary set against Federer in their five previous meetings and had never been past the third round at Wimbledon.
Federer was 3-0 ahead in six minutes, wrapped up the first set without the Romanian getting a sniff at a break and then set about crushing any lingering resistance.
Hanescu, tall and ungainly, was broken twice early in the second set and then capitulated entirely in the third.
He eventually exited the encounter with a wayward forehand return leaving Federer to accept the acclaim of the crowd and wistfully regret how quickly the occasion had passed.
"It's been always a dream come true for me," added Federer, whose parents were guests in the Royal Box.
"In some ways, once I understood what it's all about, opening Monday, the defending champion gets the honour to open the court, ever since it's been an amazing day and match to be part of."
With the tennis fates conspiring to put him in the same side of the draw as home hope Andy Murray and twice winner Rafa Nadal, Federer faces arguably his toughest challenge at Wimbledon to date.
It is 10 years since he won his first Wimbledon title, then a pony-tailed youth who was shouldering heady comparisons with the great Pete Sampras.
He now has the opportunity to surpass Sampras and William Renshaw as the most decorated men's player on southwest London's most famous lawns.
Bookmakers have him as fourth favourite, with Novak Djokovic heading the field, but only a brave man would bet against Federer on grass.
The Swiss himself thinks he is better now than when he beat Mark Philippoussis to claim his maiden Wimbledon success.
"Today, because I'm stronger, because I have the experience, because I've played so much, I'm just overall a more complete player," he said.
The next test of his title credentials comes against Sergiy Stakhovsky of Ukraine on Wednesday. (Reporting by Toby Davis; editing by Ken Ferris)