Fashion, class at Wimbledon

Special to The Times

WIMBLEDON, England -- For all its repressed fashion and imposed decorum, Wimbledon sure has shown a knack for panache through the years, with the 2008 event already doubly historic.

It’s believed to be the first time somebody warmed up in a trench coat, and it’s believed to be the first time a player walked over to sit next to his opponent during a changeover as if they were some doubles team.

Even if no particular tennis match survives in memory banks from the first week of the 122nd Wimbledon, everybody at Court No. 1 on opening day might well remember Serena Williams’ fabulous coat -- or “mackintosh,” as the Times of London surmised -- while everybody at Centre Court will remember Dominik Hrbaty’s uncommon gesture honoring his longtime friend Roger Federer.


The coat, short by design and white by mandate, debuted as the sixth-seeded Williams hit balls with daunting 36th-ranked opponent Kaia Kanepi, keeping the wide belt fastened and the coat closed as she volleyed. She removed it shortly before her rugged 7-5, 6-3 victory and discussed it at length afterward.

“It’s a very lightweight fabric,” she said with vigor. “It’s woven so it has a little give in it as well. On the inside it’s stitched with gold. It has a little give on both ways. It’s very movable. It’s very light. It’s just delectable.”

Prompting sports reporters to delve into fashion reporting, the coat looked so very classic-movie-spy yet with a hint of Austin Powers, of London chic, very Peggy Lipton, very retro. One of her sponsors hatched the idea, and she briskly endorsed.

“You know, I absolutely love trench coats,” Williams said for yet another of her stated quirks. “I live in Florida, where I probably have more coats than anybody. I just love coats. I’m always buying Burberry coats. I mean, I love coats. And I don’t know why because I live in Florida. So it doesn’t really add up.”

She might wear the coat in the second round and in New York rain sometime.

About the time she re-donned the coat to walk off chatting and grinning with French Open quarterfinalist Kanepi, something rather unforgettable occurred on Centre Court that overshadowed even Federer’s new Wimbledon cardigan.

As Federer began aiming for his sixth consecutive Wimbledon title, he perpetrated his customary massacre but this time upon a friend, Hrbaty, 30, once No. 12 on Earth, playing his 46th Grand Slam tournament.

Federer stormed to a 6-3, 6-2, 5-2 lead toward a 6-2 finish, when suddenly he had company on his side of the chair umpire.

“I looked and there he was,” Federer said. “He asked if he could sit next to me. I said, ‘Sure. There’s no problem. There’s an extra seat.’ We go way back. We used to play doubles together. Used to practice a lot together. . . . “

Federer credited Hrbaty with helping teach Federer how to practice, and said Hrbaty once told him that if Federer could ever beat Hrbaty in practice, he surely could become No. 1 in the world.

Both those things happened, and Hrbaty said he made the gesture to venerate the friendship, and as they sat there, Hrbaty said it had been an honor to play his friend, and Federer said, “Well, same for me here.”

“He said it might be his last Wimbledon,” Federer said later, “so it was almost a little bit emotional. So it was quite nice he did that.”

In turn, Wimbledon had another addition to its vivid history of sidelights, and Hrbaty had the chance of being remembered as far more than the usual first-round Federer mulch.



Wimbledon: Day 1

A look at who won, who lost and what’s next at the All England Club (world rankings in parentheses):

Who won

Serena Williams (6) d. Kaia Kanepi, Estonia (36), 7-5, 6-3 -- In a rugged draw for both, groundstrokes wrung gasps from the audience. Meanwhile, quiet old experience won out.

Roger Federer, Switzerland (1) d. Dominik Hrbaty, Slovakia (273), 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 -- Federer felt a twinge of pressure two minutes before going onto Centre Court as the yet-again defending champion, then won the first 11 points. Clearly everyone in the world could feel such pressure.

Ana Ivanovic, Serbia (1) d. Rossana De Los Rios, Paraguay (103), 6-1, 6-2 -- Ivanovic played her first match as the world’s official No. 1 player. It seemed to rattle her deeply.

Novak Djokovic, Serbia (3) d. Michael Berrer, Germany (91), 7-5, 2-6, 6-3, 6-0 -- Djokovic has reached at least the fourth round in eight of the last nine grand slam tournaments, the third in the other. So add marvelous consistency to his consistent marvel.

The Bondarenko family of Ukraine (27 and 47) -- Alona, 23, and Kateryna, 21, both won in a case of Williams emulation.

The Radwanska family of Poland (11 and 190) -- Agnieszka, 19, and Urszula, 17, both won in another case of Williams emulation.


Who lost

A bunch of Americans (Robby Ginepri, Sam Querrey, Vince Spadea, Kevin Kim) -- Ginepri, generally happy with his game this year, lost to Fernando Gonzalez just as at the French and said, “Wouldn’t mind not seeing him for a couple of years.” The other losses left the Georgian Bobby Reynolds as the only male Yank winner on Monday.

A bunch of retirees (Michael Llodra, Hyung-Taik Lee, Filippo Volandri, Sergiy Stakhovsky, Kei Nishikori) -- Five men retired during matches. It’s either happenstance or devolution.

Ivo Karlovic, Croatia (22), lost to Simon Stadler, Germany (172), 4-6, 7-6 (4), 6-3, 7-5 -- Many billed Karlovic as a sleeper here as he won the tuneup in Nottingham. This shocker made it seem he overheard them.

David Nalbandian, Argentina (7), lost to Frank Dancevic, Canada (95), 6-4, 6-2, 6-4 -- In Nalbandian’s last two grass-court matches, he has won 11 games in five sets. It might be a good time for a reminder of the startling fact that he reached the 2002 final here.


What’s next

Venus Williams (7) vs. Naomi Cavaday, Britain (197) -- The merry chase begins for title No. 5.

Andy Roddick (6) vs. Eduardo Schwank, Argentina (60) -- The tortured chase continues for title No. 1.

Maria Sharapova, Russia (2) vs. Stephanie Foretz, France (105) -- The loud, grunting chase begins for title No. 2.

Rafael Nadal, Spain (2) vs. Andreas Beck, Germany (122) -- The latter is a 22-year-old qualifier in his first Wimbledon. The former is a 22-year-old who’s not so much a man as a frightening weather pattern.

-- Chuck Culpepper