WIMBLEDON, England - Roger Federer thought Centre Court looked smashing, what with its new retractable roof at the ready, all-white fabric and steel trusses.
The fans at Wimbledon thought Federer looked smashing, too, what with his new collar-up, military-style jacket and form-fitting tuxedo vest, all white with gold trim.
As for Federer's play yesterday at the All England Club? Well, for a few minutes, that did not look quite so good. But only for a few minutes. After trailing by a break in the first set of his first match since winning the French Open to complete a career Grand Slam, Federer righted himself and beat Yen-hsun Lu, of Taiwan, 7-5, 6-3, 6-2, to take the first step toward a record-breaking 15th major championship overall.
"Solid performance," Federer said. "It's funny: I actually didn't even think about it - I didn't have a grass-court match yet this year. It's something I completely forgot about."
Day 1 at Wimbledon featured only one upset of any significance: 17th-seeded James Blake, of the United States, lost in straight sets to 50th-ranked Andreas Seppi, of Italy. And even that wasn't all that shocking, considering that Blake has now lost three Grand Slam matches in a row. Otherwise, No. 21 Feliciano Lopez was beaten by Karol Beck, 10-8, in the fifth set, while two seeded women lost, No. 21 Patty Schnyder and No. 23 Aleksandra Wozniak.
Past Wimbledon champions Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova reached the second round, as did No. 4 Novak Djokovic, No. 7 Fernando Verdasco, No. 9 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and No. 13 Robin Soderling, the runner-up to Federer at Roland Garros this month.
That recent up-close look at Federer is still sharp in Soderling's mind.
"He's so complete. He knows every shot. Serves well, forehand, backhand well, volleys well, moves well," Soderling said after eliminating Gilles Muller, of Luxembourg, 6-7 (4), 7-5, 6-1, 6-2. "You know, that's why he's No. 1. That's why, to me, he's the best player in history."
Actually, Federer is No. 2 in the rankings and the Wimbledon seedings. That's in part because the last time he played on grass, 50 weeks ago, Federer lost to Rafael Nadal in the 2008 Wimbledon final, a 4-hour, 48-minute affair that, thanks to rain delays, finished after 9 p.m. and in near-darkness.
Such days are forever consigned to history around these parts, although now that Wimbledon is equipped with a roof, of course, there was not a drop of rain yesterday.
Nadal managed to end Federer's 40-match winning streak at Wimbledon and record 65-match run on grass and so the Spaniard, as reigning champion, would have been accorded the honor of playing the opening Centre Court match this year. Except that Nadal withdrew from the tournament Friday, citing sore knees, and for the first time since 1973, the previous year's runner-up - Federer - got things started.
This was Federer's sixth chance to be first to stride onto the most hallowed lawn in tennis; he won Wimbledon five times, from 2003 to '07.
"It's a very privileged spot, Monday, 1 p.m.," Federer said. "I know that Rafa deserves it, obviously, more than I do this year. But somebody had to do it, so I'm very happy that they chose me, of course. Yeah, gets your heart beating, that's for sure."
Federer finished with 42 winners and only 10 unforced errors.
Williams, the 2002-03 champion and runner-up to her sister Venus a year ago, made her own fashion statement, wearing a trench coat onto Centre Court.
"I just thought it was going to rain," Williams said after defeating 154th-ranked qualifier Neuza Silva, of Portugal, 6-1, 7-5. "I thought, 'Well, if it rains, then I'll still play.' "
No wet weather arrived, though, and the first closing of Wimbledon's roof will wait for another day. *