London: Andre Agassi relished the Wimbledon Centre Court atmosphere on Tuesday with the enthusiasm of a born showman who knows there may not be too many more days like this.
After a first round victory over Britain’s Jamie Delgado, the world number one bowed and blew kisses to every corner of the crowd, which responded with a standing ovation.
“For me at my stage of my career its quite a feeling to be out there,” Agassi confided after his 6-4, 6-0, 5-7, 6-4 win. “You never really know how many more days you are going to get again.”
At 33, Agassi recently became the oldest man to hold the world number one ranking and, following defending champion Lleyton Hewitt’s shock demise on Monday, he knows this year might be his last serious chance to claim a second Wimbledon crown, 11 years after his first one.
Serena Williams was also treated to a generous ovation from the Centre Court crowd, helping her to push the memories of her tearful exit from the French Open earlier this month a little further to the back of her mind.
The defending champion took three minutes short of an hour to complete a 6-3, 6-3 win over compatriot Jill Craybas.
Any rivals hoping that events in Paris, when Serena was booed and jeered on her way to a traumatic defeat by Justine Henin-Hardenne in the semi-final, would have a lasting impact on her dominance of the world game were proved wrong.
Williams’ hitting from the baseline was as lusty as ever and progressively overwhelmed the spirited resistance of her opponent.
But she admitted afterwards that she had been affected by some uncharacteristic pre-match nerves, which may have been a legacy of her experience in Paris.
“Maybe a little bit of that was lingering on but once the first few games were over I got in the groove a little bit better,” Williams said.
The world number one was also keen to avoid the fate of Hewitt, who crashed out to Croatian qualifier Ivo Karlovic.
“I wanted to make sure I was on my toes,” Williams said. “I didn’t want to make history by having two defending champions going out in the first round.”
Williams meets Els Callens of Belgium in the second round and is unlikely to face a serious workout before a scheduled meeting with Jennifer Capriati in the quarter finals. Capriati beat Switzerland’s Myriam Casanova 6-1, 6-3.
American Meghann Shaughnessy, the 19th seed, was the biggest woman casualty in the early action on Tuesday, succumbing in straight sets to Hungarian qualifier Aniko Kapros.
Thailand’s Tamarine Tanasugarn, seeded 32, also exited after losing her all-Asia battle with Japan’s Akiko Morigami 4-6, 3-6.
Jelena Dokic briefly looked like she might be in trouble against British wildcard Elena Baltacha, who got the home crowd going with a stirring second set display.
But Yugoslavian Dokic, the 11th seed and a former semi-finalist at Wimbledon, had enough in reserve and was able to kill off her opponent 6-3, 1-6, 6-4 for what she described as a much-needed confidence boost.
It was less of a struggle for Russian 15th seed Elena Dementieva, who eased through 6-2, 6-1 against Germany’s Angelika Roesch.
In other men’s matches, British number one Tim Henman set off a fresh outbreak of henmania — the fevered expectation which grips the nation every year around this time of year — by coming through his first round match.
But a 6-2, 7-6 (13-11), 3-6, 6-1 win over Czech qualifier Tomas Zib was not exactly a display to set pulses racing.
French qualifier Cyril Saulnier pulled off an upset of the day when he dumped last year’s semi-finalist Xavier Malisse with a 6-4, 6-3, 6-2 victory.
His reward for what was only the second Grand Slam victory of his career is a second round clash with powerful Australian Mark Philippoussis, who went through at the expense of Argentinian Mariano Zabaleta 6-3, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2.
Malisse was not the highest seed to fall. Seventh seed Guillermo Coria was also on his way home after a 7-5, 7-6 (7-4), 6-3 defeat by Olivier Rochus.