Winning start for reigning champion Nadal

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The Independent Online

Rafael Nadal stayed up late to watch his friend Rory McIlroy win golf's US Open but was still fresh enough to start the defence of his Wimbledon title with a straight-sets win over Michael Russell.

Nadal and McIlroy's friendship started when they met at the US Open last September, and they have traded compliments in the press ever since, with both big fans of the other's chosen sport.

As McIlroy lifted his maiden major title at Congressional, it was approaching half past midnight in the UK this morning.

Nadal was at his base in London, keeping his eyes open long enough to watch the 22-year-old's staggering eight-shot victory.

He sent McIlroy a text message to congratulate him on his triumph - the Northern Irishman had yet to reply by this afternoon - and is looking forward to meeting up with him over the coming days, with McIlroy planning to visit Wimbledon upon his return from America.

When asked if he had heard from McIlroy in the aftermath of his win, Nadal said: "No, I texted him a message. You know how when you win a tournament like this, how many messages you have on the phone.

"He did amazing. He played solid yesterday, doing what he had to do all the time, no mistakes. In my opinion, it was the perfect round of golf. He played solid all the time with no mistakes.

"When you have to play aggressive, you know what you have to do and sometimes it is easier. When you have to defend the advantage, you start to play a little bit more defensively and sometimes that can be dangerous. He managed the moments perfectly in my opinion.

"Hopefully I will have the chance to congratulate him in person."

A master of his own sport, Nadal wasted little time in booking a second-round meeting with Ryan Sweeting, easing past the unheralded Russell 6-4 6-2 6-2.

The world number 90 was the better player out of the two in the early stages, and forced the first break of the match in the sixth game when Nadal double-faulted.

That only served to spur the 25-year-old into life, though, and he broke back twice in a row to take the opening set, before taking the first game of the second against the serve to take an early stranglehold on that.

Having found himself given the runaround by Russell's hard-hitting style in the opener, Nadal mixed up his shot selection in the second set, and the introduction of the sliced backhand allowed him to dominate.

Russell was far from a walkover, however, and enjoyed some of the more memorable moments of the match, most notably when he twice flung himself to the floor to prevent Nadal's trademark forehands leaving him for dead.

Despite Russell's effort, Nadal's class was evident and, when he took his total number of breaks to seven in the third set, the game was up.

"I think he (Russell) started playing very well," Nadal said.

"He was aggressive and having good returns. I started trying to play too fast in the beginning. I had a few mistakes with the backhand and the forehand, so he had the break.

"After that I started to change my rhythm, using the slice and trying to play longer points. I think I did well after that first moment and my level in general was positive."

With injury having prevented him from defending his title in 2009, today was Nadal's first chance to open play on Centre Court as the champion.

He managed to do so in the open air too, with the bad weather that arrived later nowhere to be seen when he started, and he was happy to have kicked things off in 2011.

"It was fantastic," he said. "Seriously, I have never played on a court like this. There was big emotion to be the first player to play on this fabulous court. It was a very, very exciting feeling.

"It was fantastic to see the court in really perfect conditions. I was very happy for everything."