If Wimbledon's Court Two is the graveyard of the stars, No 1 Court has become a personal cemetery for Martina Hingis. The splendid new amphitheatre in which, two years ago, she was overwhelmed by the 16-year-old qualifier Jelena Dokic in the first round, yesterday witnessed a shock of equally seismic proportions as Hingis began her 196th week as world No 1 with a 6-4, 6-2 defeat by Virginia Ruano Pascual of Spain.
Against Dokic, Hingis had been an emotional wreck following a tearful loss to Steffi Graf in the French Open final earlier in the month and a subsequent fall-out with her mother and coach. This time she claimed that the crucial factor in a performance strewn with ghastly errors was a back injury that might, apparently, have ruled her out of the tournament last week.
"I wasn't really able to practice as I had a little tendinitis in my back and you have to move around in the match," she said in a generally good-humoured after-match interview.
"I had treatment and thought it was going to get better, but I was afraid of moving. It was too short a recovery time. Two, three days ago I didn't know if I was going to come here at all but there's no excuse. It's behind me."
So was the injury, which did not, apparently, have anything to do with the clingingly tight long-sleeved top, in which Hingis looked overheated and under-motivated from the start. Losing her serve with two successive double-faults in the fifth game reflected an early lack of conviction, which, if anything became more pronounced as the experienced Spaniard took control.
Broken in the first and third games of the second set, Hingis halved the deficit, only to go 4-1 down, a change of racket having no effect. Lucky to get away with being lobbed at 5-1, and then holding serve, Hingis found herself aced in what turned out to be the final game as two more weak returns into the net brought an almost merciful end. Ruano Pascual, who is ranked 83rd in the world, celebrated victory after 67 minutes by smashing a ball gleefully on to the roof of the stand.
Later she said: "It's a dream for me. I don't know [about Hingis' injury], she ran and served and did everything, so I didn't know she was injured.
"I felt very comfortable and played my best game. We don't play on grass in Spain and now the Spanish players feel better on grass. My backhand slice is good for this surface and I play good on the baseline."
She certainly did that, in extending a reputation en-hanced by victories in the doubles and mixed doubles in Paris.
Jennifer Capriati, the comeback kid, chasing a Grand Slam after victories in the Australian and French Opens, had some uncomfortable moments as well, but got them out of the way early on before defeating the little 27-year-old Venezuelan, Maria Vento, 6-3, 6-2.
As John McEnroe, laconic as ever, put it: "No one said this Grand Slam thing was ever gonna be easy." Capriati, never ranked higher – even in the teeny years – than her current position of fourth, made it look unfeasibly difficult for a while, losing her serve in the first game and striking some wild shots before settling down to level at 3-3. From there, it was plainer sailing, the second set lasting only 24 minutes of a match over within the hour.
Capriati, the first woman to go into Wimbledon with two Grand Slam victories behind her since Monica Seles nine years ago, said: "I just didn't find my groove right away. That's the grass also. I'm just happy I pulled that one out. I started my comeback a long time ago. In a lot of ways, it's sweeter when you really have to work for something, you appreciate it a lot more."
Serena Williams must have been in a tiny minority in finding the fearsome heat of the midday sun "heavenly". She was, speaking relatively, since the sisters have been practising in Florida, where temperatures are worse. "Everyone thinks it's hot here. This is like heaven compared to Florida," she said after proving far too hot for the Hungarian Rita Kuti Kis.
The score was 6-1, 6-0 and should have been a whitewash, Williams losing concentration when presented with three set points to take the first set 6-0; remarkably, she surrendered five points in a row and the only game that Kuti Kis won in 40 otherwise anguished minutes.
"I think I lost a little focus out there. I started thinking about different things," Williams said.
Two early casualities from the lower ranks were the 25th and 26th seeds, the American Chanda Rubin and Anne Kremer, of Luxembourg, beaten by the Austrian Barbara Schwartz and Kristina Brandi, of the United States, respectively. But, like an unknown leading the the first round of the Open, Virginia Ruano Pascual was the name out of nowhere making the news last night.
No 1 seeds who have been beaten in the first round at Wimbledon
1967 M Santana (Sp) lost to C M Pasarell (US)
1962 M Smith (Aus) lost to B-J Moffitt (US)
1994 S Graf (Ger) lost to L McNeil (US)
1999 M Hingis (Swit) lost to J Dokic (Aus)
2001 M Hingis (Swit) lost to V Ruano Pascual (Sp)Reuse content