Rafa Nadal was treated with all the deference that goes to a reigning, popular monarch. The Centre Court started off reverential and became increasingly warm and his parents, Sebastian and Anna Maria, seemed to fill the Royal Box with their pride.
The only one apparently unaware that this was supposed to be a day of homage rather than competition was 33-year-old American Michael Russell.
Nor had Russell heard the advice offered to another man facing a dominant sportsman by his gnarled old trainer. "Whatever you do," the young Mike Tyson's opponent was told, "don't land a punch. That will really piss him off." Russell, who moved from the tough town of Detroit to Dallas in his youth and after all his years on the circuit is now ranked at 97, had a similar effect on Nadal when he jumped into a 4-2 first-set lead with brilliant effort and some kamikaze diving at the net.
Nadal frowned, gathered up his most resolute mood and then started firing a series of Exocet missiles across the net. For a little while they were placed so absolutely unerringly that Russell looked genuinely contrite and promptly lost the first 6-4.
However, submission does not come naturally to this adopted Texan whose parents are both tennis coaches and perhaps he kept remembering something John McEnroe said about him during previous attempts to ambush some of tennis's marquee figures.
"No one will ever try harder on a tennis court than Michael Russell," said the former champion in acknowledgement of gritty performances against some players of repute, including French Open champion Gustavo Kuerten and Lleyton Hewitt.
This meant that if Nadal's winning score of 6-4, 6-2, 6-2 was ultimately something of a formality, we did have some remarkably rousing exchanges.
At the end, with Nadal serving on match point, Russell had the temerity to challenge what to most of our naked eyes seemed like a stonewall ace. However, Hawkeye ruled with the battling Russell, who promptly threw a fist in the air. Nadal smiled hugely and proceeded to the coup-de-grace. When it came, there was an additional bonus for his admiring fans. He took off his shirt.
Nadal refused to look beyond his second-round opponent, another relatively obscure American, Ryan Sweeting, ranked No 69 in the world but a resolute winner over Spain's Pablo Andujar after losing the first two sets.
"I think my biggest opponent now is Sweeting now. I am focused on my part of the draw. I am focused on myself.
"I played against him two times this year, one time in Australian, one time in Indian Wells," said Nadal. "He had a fantastic comeback today, so probably he arrives to our match with good confidence. I have to play aggressive like that every day. That, hopefully, will be enough. If not, I congratulate the opponent."
Sweeting will know, like the rest of tennis and not least Andy Murray, that it is an offer somewhat lacking in guarantees.Reuse content