Federer, Roddick Advance At Wimbledon

Monday, June 25th 2007, 7:52 am
By: News On 6

WIMBLEDON, England (AP) _ Roger Federer came onto Centre Court at Wimbledon dressed like a player from a bygone era. He then played like his usual modern-day great self. The top-ranked Swiss star began his bid for a record-equaling fifth consecutive Wimbledon title Monday by beating Teimuraz Gabashvili of Russia 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 on a cool and wet opening day at the All England Club.

It was Federer's 49th consecutive grass-court victory and 29th straight at Wimbledon, a streak dating back to 2003. With six more victories over the next two weeks, he would become the first player to win five straight championships since Bjorn Bjorg in 1976-80.

``It was OK,'' Federer said. ``I was pretty pleased with my performance. It was pretty solid. He played a decent match, so I had to come up with some decent shots once in a while.''

The man Federer has beaten in two finals, third-seeded Andy Roddick, also got off to a strong start, beating fellow American Justin Gimelstob 6-1, 7-5, 7-6 (3) on Court 1. Roddick served 16 aces, broke three times and never lost serve. Gimelstob is 0-6 this year since returning from back surgery.

Former Wimbledon champion Martina Hingis overcame a big scare, saving two match points in the second set against 18-year-old British wild card Naomi Cavaday before taking nine straight games to win 6-7 (1), 7-5, 6-0.

As is so often the case at Wimbledon, the tournament began in wet weather, with play getting under way after a rain delay of about 2 hours, 40 minutes. Play was suspended later in the afternoon because of more rain.

In keeping with tradition, Federer was the first player to walk onto Centre Court as defending men's champion. He did it in style, wearing a white customized dinner-style jacket _ similar to the cream-colored model he donned last year _ with a gold crest and letters RF on the breast pocket and retro long white trousers.

``Matching shoes, matching pants, matching vest and headband,'' Federer said. ``It's a very nice outfit.''

Federer took off the jacket and warmed up with a white sweater vest and the long pants before getting straight down to business _ firing a service winner down the middle on the first point. He was never troubled by the 86th-ranked Gabashvili, who was making his Wimbledon debut and had won only one previous grass-court match.

Federer needed only 1 1/2 hours to complete the victory, finishing with 33 winners and 13 unforced errors. He broke the Russian four times and saved the only break point against him. Other than Borg, only two other men have won at least five straight Wimbledons _ Laurie Doherty (1902-06) and William Renshaw (1881-86).

``I've got so much confidence, so much experience on this surface that I always expect myself to play good matches on grass,'' Federer said. ``That's what happened today.''

Federer's mother sat in the Royal Box, while his girlfriend, Mirka Vavrinec, was joined by Italian motorcycling star Valentino Rossi in his supporters section.

Federer came to Wimbledon without any grass-court match practice after losing to Rafael Nadal in the French Open final two weeks ago. He pulled out of his traditional warmup event in Halle, Germany, citing fatigue and soreness.

``I got to win the tournament to really prove that my decision was the right one,'' he said.

Federer found unfamiliar conditions on Centre Court, with the roof covering the stands removed this year in preparation for the installation of a retractable stadium roof in 2009. The court now resembles an open bowl.

``It was different,'' Federer said. ``There was always a constant breeze from the one end. I definitely prefer the old one over this one right now, but obviously it's a work in progress.''

Hingis looked as though she might become the latest casualty on Court 2, known as the ``Graveyard of Champions'' for its history of upsets of former Wimbledon winners.

``You couldn't get any closer than being two match points down,'' she said.

Hingis hadn't played a match since losing in the German Open a month and a half ago because of hip and back injuries, and she looked rusty against a 232nd-ranked teenager playing in only her second Grand Slam match.

Hingis fell behind 3-0 after just seven minutes but came back to lead 5-4. Cavaday saved three set points in the next game and swept through the tiebreaker, losing just one point.

Cavaday was up 5-4 in the second set, and had two match points on Hingis' serve. She hit a forehand return into the net on the first, and Hingis wrong-footed her with a forehand winner on the second. Hingis held and never looked back, winning the rest of the games and closing out the third set in 20 minutes.

``I was just like, no, this is not going to happen to me, not here again at Wimbledon,'' Hingis said. ``I never lost on Court 2. I know it's a graveyard of champions, but it's never been to me.''