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Federer looks good, plays better at Wimbleton

| Tuesday, June 26, 2007, 12:00 p.m.

WIMBLEDON, England -- In his five-piece, tailor-made Gatsby getup, Roger Federer looked like a tennis player from a bygone era, one seen only in black-and-white photos.

As Federer warmed up Monday for what would become his 29th consecutive victory at Wimbledon, and 49th in a row on grass, he wore long trousers, replete with belt loops, and a sweater vest, all white with gold trim. An accompanying jacket, customized "RF" logo on the left breast pocket, was neatly draped over his changeover chair, completing the throwback ensemble.

His game, as usual, was as modern and colorful as they come, filled with grace and power. It was all too much for Teimuraz Gabashvili, a Russian who is ranked 86th and lost his first career match at Wimbledon, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4, on a wet and windy Day 1 at the grass-court Grand Slam, where winners included Andy Roddick, a slightly hobbled Serena Williams and -- in a brilliant escape act -- Martina Hingis.

For Federer, it was his first match since losing the French Open final to Rafael Nadal; the Swiss star skipped his usual grass-court tuneup tournament to rest a beat-up body.

"I was, of course, a bit worried, maybe, before the first round," said Federer, trying to equal Bjorn Borg's modern-era record of five straight Wimbledon titles. "Look, I've got so much confidence, so much experience on this surface, that I always expect myself to play good matches on grass. That's what happened today."

If Federer's result was familiar, Centre Court certainly was not: Its partial roof is completely gone as part of the project to build a retractable one by 2009, temporarily making for a less-intimate atmosphere -- and the open-air setting is more susceptible to raindrops and breezes.

"It definitely does look and play a bit different this year," said Federer, whose match began 2 1/2 hours late because of rain.

Plus, the hallowed arena now features two video screens for the debut of instant replay at the oldest Grand Slam tournament. Federer didn't challenge any calls. Gabashvili did, questioning whether Federer's forehand was in -- and the replay showed it barely caught a line.

The history books will reflect that the first use of the new technology at the All England Club came at Court 1, during the No. 3-seeded Roddick's 6-1, 7-5, 7-6 (3) victory over Justin Gimelstob.

In the first set, Gimelstob challenged a fault call but the ruling was upheld.

"So," Roddick pointed out, "he has the first miss with 'Hawk-Eye' in Wimbledon history, as well."

Said Gimelstob, a 30-year-old American: "I'd like to have a few more important records, but I'll take what I can get."

He and Roddick are pals, and they spoke afterward about making some all-in-good-fun gentlemen's bets about how many times Gimelstob would launch his body into the air to dive for shots. They also tried to set up a dive during their warmup session, but that didn't work out.

The match was rather lopsided, but Gimelstob did his best to entertain the crowd and enjoy himself in his eighth and possibly final Wimbledon appearance. After one flop-and-roll resulted in a Gimelstob volley followed by Roddick's passing winner, a fan cried out: "Come on, Gimelstob!"

To which he responded: "You want more effort than that?"

With Roddick's coach, two-time Wimbledon champion Jimmy Connors, looking on, the 2003 U.S. Open champion's serve was clicking, to the tune of 16 aces. That skill is a big part of why Roddick is considered someone who could give Federer a test if they meet in the semifinals.

Then again, Roddick lost to Federer at Wimbledon in the 2003 semifinals and the 2004 and 2005 finals, and the American was asked yesterday how many times he thinks he might have won the title where they not contemporaries.

"At least one," Roddick said, "possibly two."

Williams (2002, 2003) and Hingis (1997) have won the championship at the All England Club, but there were moments when things didn't look so good for them yesterday.

Williams double-faulted six times, made 20 unforced errors and got broken at 4-4, allowing the 57th-ranked Lourdes Dominguez Lino to serve for the first set. But Williams broke right back to start an eight-game run for a 6-4, 6-0 victory.

Afterward, Williams' father said she's injured and shouldn't be playing at all. She acknowledged she has a tight hamstring and said, "I did feel a little limited," but added: "It's gotten better since I've been getting treatment on it."

Hingis, back after missing 1 1/2 months with hip and back injuries, was in far more trouble against 18-year-old Naomi Cavaday of Britain, facing two match points at 5-4 in the second set. But Cavaday wasted the first by dumping a return into the net, and Hingis saved the second with a forehand winner. And that was it: Hingis took that game, followed by the next eight, and won, 6-7 (1), 7-5, 6-0.

"I found it tough mentally, because she does come back at you and back at you and back at you," the 232nd-ranked Cavaday said. "It's relentless."

The same might be said of Federer, who compiled an impressive ratio of 33 winners to 13 unforced errors and hit nine aces, some that kicked up puffs of white chalk as they kissed lines. He mixed in the occasional serve-and-volley, saved the only break point he faced, and generally reduced Gabashvili to a frustrated foil who muttered at himself after some lost points, stomped his sneakers and rolled his eyes after others.

To hear Federer tell it, though, the task was tougher than it appeared.

"He also played a decent match," said Federer, aiming for an 11th Grand Slam title, which would move him three away from Pete Sampras' career record. "I had to come up with some shots once in a while."


Wimbledon at a glance

A look at Wimbledon on Monday:

• Weather: Rainy and windy. The start of play was delayed 2 1/2 hours because of rain, and there were later rain delays. Ten matches were postponed, 11 suspended. High of 62 degrees.

• Today's forecast: Rain early, sunny later. High of 66.

• Attendance: 32,916. Last year: 32,272.

• Men's Seeded Winners: No. 1 Roger Federer, No. 3 Andy Roddick, No. 5 Fernando Gonzalez, No. 13 Tommy Haas, No. 17 David Ferrer.

• Men's Seeded Losers: No. 27 Philipp Kohlschreiber.

• Women's Seeded Winners: No. 1 Justine Henin, No. 7 Serena Williams, No. 9 Martina Hingis, No. 15 Patty Schnyder, No. 16 Shahar Peer, No. 18 Marion Bartoli, No. 20 Sybille Bammer, No. 25 Lucie Safarova.

• Women's Seeded Losers: None.

• Top players on court today: No. 2 Rafael Nadal, No. 4 Novak Djokovic, No. 9 James Blake, No. 16 Lleyton Hewitt; No. 2 Maria Sharapova, No. 4 Amelie Mauresmo, No. 5 Svetlana Kuznetsova.


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