- Associated Press - Monday, June 20, 2011

WIMBLEDON, England — Rafael Nadal opened his Wimbledon title defense with a convincing victory Monday, beating Michael Russell 6-4, 6-2, 6-2 on a “fantastic” day while his parents watched from the Royal Box.

In keeping with tradition, the defending men’s champion played the first match on Centre Court at the All England Club - and the top-ranked Spaniard put on a worthy performance to begin the 125th edition of the championships.

Five-time women’s champion Venus Williams, back on her favorite grass surface, also swept into the second round with a 6-3, 6-1 win over 97th-ranked Akgul Amanmuradova.

Nadal, coming off his sixth French Open title and 10th overall Grand Slam championship, double-faulted to go down a break 4-2 in the first set against the 91st-ranked Russell. But Nadal buckled down, ran off six straight games to take the set and go up a break in the second. He was in command the rest of the way against the 33-year-old American.

“I started so-so in the first set, but after that I start to hit very well the forehand, and I think I finished playing a very good level,” Nadal said.

The two players shared a laugh after Russell successfully challenged what had been ruled an ace by Nadal on match point. Nadal won the next point, though, to finish the match in just under two hours.

It was the first time Nadal had walked onto Centre Court as defending champion. After winning the title for the first time in 2008, he missed the tournament the following year with a knee injury.

“Fantastic,” he said. “Seriously, I never played in a court like this. [It] was a big emotion to be the first player to play in this fabulous court. It was a very, very exciting feeling.”

Although Nadal and Williams played in mostly sunny conditions, rain fell in late afternoon and forced organizers to call off all play for the day except on Centre Court, where matches continued under the retractable roof.

Resuming play in covered conditions at 1-1 in the third set after a delay of about 50 minutes, sixth-seeded Francesca Schiavone completed a 6-4, 1-6, 6-3 victory over 45th-ranked Jelena Dokic.

Schiavone, the 2010 French Open champion and this year’s runner-up at Roland Garros, capitalized on two double-faults by Dokic to break for 5-3. With rain drops drumming on the translucent roof, the Italian saved four break points in the next game before winning on her second match point.

Organizers later announced there would be no more play on the outside courts.