Looking lethargic, and rarely showing off the power-based game that carried her to five Wimbledon titles and seven majors overall, Williams departed meekly Monday with a 6-1, 6-3 defeat against 79th-ranked Elena Vesnina of Russia. Only once before -- as a teenager making her Wimbledon debut in 1997 -- had Williams exited so early at the All England Club.
Men’s champion Novak Djokovic arrived on court with a golf club, Roger Federer with his own unique brand of magic and Maria Sharapova basking in a Parisian glow as Wimbledon’s headline acts shone in the opening day sunshine on Monday.
While that trio claimed routine victories to launch the 126th edition of the grasscourt grand slam, five-times women’s winner Venus Williams had a forgettable day, ditching out in the first round after losing 6-1, 6-3 to Russian doubles specialist Elena Vesnina.
The 32-year-old, who has been beset by health problems, was one of 11 grand slam champions in the women’s draw, including current US Open champion Samantha Stosur and 2011 French Open winner Li Na, both of whom had comfortable wins.
World number one Djokovic was in a playful mood after a clinical 6-3, 6-3, 6-1 defeat of Spain’s Juan Carlos Ferrero.
“I mixed it up with a tennis racket,” the amiable Serb told reporters of the stunt where he pulled out a junior club from his racket bag just moments after walking on to a packed Centre Court.
“It was a little funny thing. Fans corrected me straight away, saying ‘this is not a golf club’.”
Djokovic could probably have used the club to beat former French Open champion Ferrero, such was his dominance of a contest that barely got a mention in the post-match conference which ended with the Serb discussing his pet poodle.
“It’s four years old and cute as candy,” he said.
Federer, eyeing a record-equaling seventh Wimbledon title, limbered up with a tasty 6-1, 6-1, 6-1 defeat of Spain’s Albert Ramos, a player without a single win on grass.
Federer’s 106th on the surface - a record among active players - was never in doubt.
Not even being overlooked for a Centre Court slot ruffled the majestic Swiss who needs one more title here to equal the seven of Pete Sampras.
“Absolutely special, because you do realize the moment you walk on to the court that it is a different place here than any other,” the 30-year-old told reporters.
“Just the respectful clap, no music. The whole thing is very much focused on the players and on the sport, which is beautiful. We had a great atmosphere on Court One.”
Sharapova, fresh from winning the French Open and reclaiming the world No.1 ranking, dropped only one point in the opening four games against Australia’s Anastasia Rodionova although she was eventually forced to engage second gear in 6-2, 6-3 victory.
The Russian will face Bulgarian Tsvetana Pironkova in the second round - a dangerous opponent who reached the semi-finals in 2010 and the quarterfinals last year.
“The first one’s always tricky,” Sharapova, the darling of Wimbledon 2004, told reporters. “To go out there after not competing for a couple weeks, the transition from clay to grass, I thought I started off the match really well.”
On paper Williams’ defeat by Vesnina represented a shock, although those present on the bowl-like Court Two were watching a pale imitation of the woman who has graced the tournament since appearing with her braids, beads and raw talent in 1997.
The American, who since losing that debut match to Poland’s Magdalena Grzybowska had never experienced an opening round defeat here, was 5-0 down in a flash and never recovered in front of a sympathetic Court Two crowd, some of whom had queued from the early hours of the morning to grab a ticket for the more intimate show court.
“I feel like I’m a great player but I have to deal with circumstances that other people don’t have to deal with in the sport,” Williams, who finished 2011 outside the world’s top 100 after battling with injury and Sjogren’s syndrome, a little-known disorder that causes fatigue and joint pain.
“There’s no way I’m just going to sit down and give up just because I have a hard time the first five or six freaking tournaments back,” added the former world number one who only returned to action after a seven-month lay-off in March. “I’m as tough as nails.”
All eyes were on Argentine bad-boy David Nalbandian as he walked out on Court One to face Serbia’s Janko Tipsarevic, eight days after being defaulted in the final of the Queen’s Club warm-up tournament for booting an advertising podium and gashing the shin of a line judge.
This time the former Wimbledon finalist kept his cool despite a 6-4, 7-6, 6-2 defeat.
Injury-hit Belgian Kim Clijsters, playing her farewell Wimbledon after announcing she will retire for a second time in September, showed she is still a class act when she beat Serbia’s Jelena Jankovic, another former world No.1, 6-2 6-4.
Number six Tomas Berdych, a finalist two years ago, was beaten by Latvian Ernests Gulbis 7-6, 7-6, 7-6, while John Isner, the top-ranked American and 11th seed here, lost to Alejandro Falla of Colombia in five sets.