Rod Laver, that much- loved monarch of the courts, received a crystal vase to mark the 25th anniversary of his second Grand Slam, and then marvelled at the power of Pete Sampras, his greatest fan under 35.
Martina Navratilova took a bow, but only the first of her valedictory Wimbledon. Boris Becker and Stefan Edberg barely creaked in easing their way into the second round, and if a jester were needed to lighten the proceeedings, Andre Agassi obliged both the public and the media.
Sampras and Agassi appear to be trying to outdo one another in the baggy shorts department, but Sampras could wear pantaloons and still look all business. It took him until the end of the second set to adjust to the slippery conditions of a lush Centre Court and break the serve of Jared Palmer, a resilient fellow- American, but the force of the defending champion's deliveries gradually punctuated a 7-6, 7-5, 6-3 victory.
We had to wait 24 minutes for Sampras's first ace of the championships, to which he added 24 more, along with the customary plethora of unreturnable serves. One delivery was timed at 128 mph, only .6 mph slower than the fastest recorded this year, by the Russian Yevgeny Kafelnikov on an indoor court in Copenhagen.
Before the blitz, Palmer created opportunities to at least have lengthened the match. Sampras had to save three break points in his opening service game and two set points to force the tie- break. After diving vainly in an attempt to block a Palmer drive, Sampras produced an ace and was then relieved to see his opponent direct a forehand wide.
Sampras, who won the shoot-out, 7-4, agreed that it was not the most satisfactory end to a tight situation. 'A tie-breaker on grass is a couple of swings of the racket,' he said.
There were lighter moments in the third game of the second set. Four lets were called against Sampras before he won the opening point with an ace, and three lets were called before an ace gave him the second point. Sampras decided to measure the net with his racket, and an official arrived to check that the obstacle was not too high. Sampras decided it was time to put the game behind him, and finished the job with. . . you guessed it.
Palmer created his first break point of the set in the 11th game, only to net a service return, and the contest was as good as over when Sampras hit a confident forehand return across the court on his second set point in the following game.
'The court was very green, very slippery, and we were both slipping and sliding,' Sampras said. 'The first week and the second week are totally different. The second week it hardens up and it's a totally different tournament.'
With his serve grooving so well - 'When you get in a rhythm like that, he (Palmer) really didn't have a clue where it was going' - Sampras plans to advance to the firmer ground again. So, too, do Becker and Edberg, whose injury problems were massaged away by straight-sets victories.
Becker was surprised not to have been given a tougher match by David Wheaton. The American, once regarded as a danger to anybody on the faster surfaces, was unable to mount a challenge to the three-times champion, losing 6-2, 6-4, 6-3.
Edberg survived one crisis on the way to defeating Ellis Ferreira, 6-2, 7-6, 6-4. The South African led 5-1 in the second set and had seven set points. Edberg recovered and went on to win the tie-break.
Agassi seemed likely to be involved in a marathon with Andrea Gaudenzi when losing a second-set tie-break against Italy's former world junior champion, but the Las Vegan extricated himself impressively and entertainingly to win, 6-2, 6-7, 6-3, 6-2.
The 1992 champion made time for fun even as the tie- break loomed, striding to the net and pretending to throw a tantrum after Gaudenzi protested about a line call. The swagger had returned to the American's game, and he delighted a receptive audience with some splendid lobs.
Afterwards, he played with the journalists, returning questions concerning his chest hair ('not quite as short as last year, not quite as long as the year before') and about his association with the actress Brooke Shields. How did he see the relationship? 'I see it very clearly.'
Apologies to the seeding committee for doubting their wisdom in overlooking the big-serving Dutchman, Richard Krajicek. Presented on these pages as a dangerous floater, he went belly-up, torpedoed by Australia's Darren Cahill, 6-3, 6-2, 5-7, 7-6.
Navratilova, reserved until last for the Centre Court, ensured she would not suffer a repeat of her embarrassing first-round defeat at the French Open. The nine-times champion defeated Claire Taylor, a 19-year-old from Banbury, ranked No 461 in the world, 6-2, 6-3.
Taylor at least never looked in danger of sharing the fate of Angelica Gavaldon, who lost 6-0, 6-0 against Kristine Radford, of Australia.
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