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Federer, Serena start with a flourish

THE new roof wasn't tested. Roger Federer was - briefly.

The retractable roof stayed open yesterday for the first match on Centre Court at Wimbledon, and Federer fell behind early before charging past Lu Yen-hsun of Chinese Taipei, 7-5, 6-3, 6-2.

Federer failed to convert his first four break-point chances, then lost serve to trail 2-3. But he immediately broke back, broke again in the final game of the first set and dominated from there. "I thought I played really well," Federer said. "My opponent was tough."

Bidding for his sixth title, Federer won for the 41st time in his past 42 matches at the All England Club. The lone loss came in last year's final to Rafael Nadal, a match hailed by some as the sport's best ever.

The grasscourt tournament began in cloudy but dry weather. When it rains, the translucent roof on the 87-year-old stadium will be closed so play can continue.

"I guess the moment will come that I'll play indoors here," Federer said. "But you don't really hope for it during the match."

Playing second on Centre Court was two-time champion Serena Williams, who lost only nine points on her serve and beat Portuguese qualifier Neuza Silva 6-1, 7-5. The No. 2-seeded Williams, runner-up to her sister Venus a year ago, improved to 5-5 since starting the year 21-2.

"I'm just happy to have a win under my belt here," Williams said. "I was a little nervous going into the match."

Maria Sharapova, the 2004 women's champion, won the final four games of the first set and beat qualifier Viktoriya Kutuzova of Ukraine 7-5, 6-4.

"She's a very aggressive player," Sharapova said. "She went for many shots very freely and loosely, and I was just trying to hold on."

Sharapova, making a comeback from shoulder surgery last October, saved a set point in the opening set with a forehand winner and later shook off two awkward spills behind the baseline.

Joining the Russian in the second round will be Slovakia's Daniela Hantuchova who ended the hopes of Britain's golden girl Laura Robson 3-6, 6-4, 6-2.

The 15-year-old Robson, the youngest player in the main draw since Martina Hingis in 1995, had the distinction of winning the first ever point on the new Court Two when she fired an ace.

It was a good day for Asia, as China's Zheng Jie and Sania Mirza of India moved into the next round.

Last year's semifinalist, Zheng, the 16th seed, survived a tough test against Germany's Kristina Barrois before coming through 7-6 (2), 7-6 (4). Mirza, returning from injury woes, beat Anna-Lena Groenefeld of Germany 6-2, 2-6, 6-2 in a clash of unseeded players.

The first seeded player to lose was No. 17 James Blake, who was beaten by Andreas Seppi of Italy 5-7, 4-6, 6-7 (5). Blake failed to convert a set point in the third set and squandered a 5-0 lead in the tiebreaker.

Blake also lost in the first round at the French Open last month.

Another American, No. 28-seeded Mardy Fish, never lost serve and led 6-3, 6-2, 4-1 when Argentina's Sergio Roitman retired with a right shoulder injury.


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