(Recasts with early matches)
By Martyn Herman
LONDON, June 24 (Reuters) - Short, sweet and exquisitely stylish, holder Roger Federer’s first round win at Wimbledon lit the touch-paper on the grasscourt championships on Monday and mocked the long odds on him winning a record eighth crown.
The 17-times grand slam champion, seeded third, was detained a mere 68 minutes in polishing off 48th ranked Romanian Victor Hanescu whose role on court was reduced to that of a human ball machine.
Under cloudy skies and temperatures more suited to hot chocolate than Pimms, Federer, as he has done so many times in his previous 14 Wimbledon appearances, topped the bill on a mouthwatering open day at the All England Club.
Men’s second seed Andy Murray, bidding to become the first British man to win the title since Fred Perry in 1936, was also in action on Centre Court later while 12-times grand slam champion Rafa Nadal was getting the grass under his feet again after his march to a record eighth French Open title this month.
With women’s top seed and defending champion Serena Williams in action on Tuesday, her two main rivals, Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka, were the leading ladies in action.
Azarenka’s challenge seemed set for a painful and premature end when she slipped awkwardly on the lush Court One carpet while leading easily against Portugal’s Maria Joao Koehler.
The Belarussian needed lengthy treatment on her right knee while leading 1-0 in the second set and went through the full range of grimaces as she gingerly continued.
Despite not moving freely she completed a 6-1 6-2 win.
Federer’s first entrance on Centre Court has become a regular feature of the British summer since he made his debut at the tournament 15 years ago.
More often than not since then, eight times in fact, Federer has been first to walk out on to the historic Centre Court - a stage truly fit for the king of men’s tennis.
He looked regal again on Monday, sauntering out in an immaculate white jacket garnished with the tiniest flash of orange piping to match the soles of his shoes.
Hanescu, equal only to 31-year-old Federer in age, was simply dazzled, losing the first set in 24 minutes and the last in 17 as Federer, keen to conserve energy for the challenges ahead, raced to his 122nd grasscourt victory.
“I pack my bags anyway for five sets every single time,” Federer told reporters after his consummate display.
“In the first round, we’ve seen the surprise losses happen too often. I was always going to give credit to Victor.”
For Hanescu, the writing was on the wall in the final point of the first game when Federer casually stuck out his racket to pat away an angled volley while moving in the wrong direction.
“It’s super exciting being a part of (the first) match. I‘m happy I won ‘them all. So that’s been a good thing,” added Federer, fourth favourite with most bookmakers after finding himself in the same half of the draw as Nadal and Murray.
Local hope Murray, gunning to go one better than last year’s tearful final defeat by Federer, was due on court to face Germany’s Benjamin Becker while twice former champion Nadal, seeded five, opened against Belgium’s Steve Darcis.
Women’s fifth seed Sara Errani of Italy became the first major casualty, her dislike of grass all too apparent as she lost to Puerto Rican debutant Monica Puig in straight sets.
“I cannot move, so that is my problem,” she said. “Maybe one day I will not be afraid anymore, but it’s difficult.” (Reporting by Martyn Herman; editing by Ken Ferris)