Twelve months ago Michelle Larcher de Brito was all but public enemy No 1 as the traditionalists lined up to lambast the latest serial grunter in women's tennis. The squeals were just as loud on Centre Court yesterday, but by the end of her 6-0, 6-4 first-round defeat to Serena Williams the 17-year-old from Portugal had performed the remarkable feat of winning over the home crowd.
Perhaps that was down to the affection Wimbledon has for a gallant loser. Maybe it was because the world No 1 herself was grunting just as loudly as the world No 148. A more likely explanation, however, was the public's appreciation for Larcher de Brito's spirited response after Williams had threatened to sweep the teenager off the court during an embarrassingly one-sided first set.
The defending champion, who has never lost in the first round in 43 Grand Slam tournaments, hit 15 aces and served at speeds of up to 40mph faster than Larcher de Brito. On her own serve, the Portuguese was so intimidated by the power of Williams' returns that she routinely took a step or two backwards behind the baseline immediately after serving.
Although Larcher de Brito never got to grips with the Williams serve – the American eventually served out the match with three aces and a service winner in the final game – she gave as good as she got whenever she got into the rallies. Her double-handed backhand in particular, struck low and hard over the net, regularly had Williams in trouble. Larcher de Brito's growing confidence on her serve was also shown in the penultimate game as she dug her way out of trouble from 30-40 down.
Williams said she could understand why the crowd had supported her opponent. "Maybe they're just rooting for the underdog," she said. "I would have got behind her as well, especially now that I'm watching a lot of the football. I really got behind North Korea. My heart really went out to them."
The American's next match, against Russia's Anna Chakvetadze, may be played in front of the Queen – who is visiting the All England Lawn Tennis Club tomorrow for the first time for 33 years. Williams promised to wear "something more conservative" after appearing yesterday in what she called her "strawberries and cream" outfit, which consisted of a white mini-dress over bright red undershorts.
Elsewhere in the first round, Samantha Stosur was beaten 6-4, 6-4 by Estonia's Kaia Kanepi, while Stosur's conqueror in the recent French Open final, Francesca Schiavone, suffered a surprise 6-7, 7-5, 6-1 loss to the world No 47, Vera Dushevina. Maria Sharapova looked in good shape, the 2004 champion needing less than an hour to beat her fellow Russian, Anastasia Pivovarova, who won only one game.Reuse content