Novak Djokovic might well be the first player to bring a golf club on to Centre Court in defence of the men's singles title but after the laughter subsided the Serb put on his business face to confirm the enormous gulf between the new game and the old.
In an era of muscle and stamina, the world No1 is rivalled for the brutality of his tennis probably only by Rafael Nadal. On Monday, Nadal's compatriot Juan Carlos Ferrero, who once was No1 himself, could barely land a punch on Djokovic.
While there were brief moments of fragility in the first set – a couple of horror shots at the net on the way to dropping serve in a sleep-walking start – once Djokovic had vanquished the gremlins he bludgeoned his way to a straight sets win in an hour and 38 minutes. That was only 10 minutes longer than it took him to win the fourth set against Nadal when they fought for nearly six hours over the Australian Open title five months ago.
If there were two matches on the opening day of this 126th Wimbledon that illustrated the power shift in tennis they were Djokovic's systematic deconstruction of the 32-year-old Spaniard and Roger Federer's quick embarrassment of another Spaniard, Albert Ramos, in an hour and 19 minutes.
They and Nadal, with Andy Murray in reasonably close attendance, have taken tennis to another level. Murray and Nadal are on Centre Court on Tuesday; on day one, it was Djokovic who looked marginally more awesome than Federer, given the quality of his opposition.
Seven years ago in Croatia, Ferrero was 25 – the same age as Djokovic is now – and although he had slipped a little from his spell of eight weeks at the top of the world rankings, he was still good enough to beat the young Serb handily in two sets; his was a grinding clay strategy but not without subtlety and art, and Djokovic had yet to identify the awesome strength in his game that would become manifest after 2010.
On the fresh grass of Centre Court, Ferrero looked considerably further away from Djokovic than the 37 places between them in the rankings, as he cranked up the heat in front of a curiously subdued audience. They tittered briefly when the game's joker-in-chief brought that junior golf club with him on to court, and he shared the jape with those who noticed.
"It was a little joke we wanted to do with my sponsor," he said. As for his own golf game, he said: "I'm not really good at it but I enjoy the walk in the park."
Which is what his match with Ferrero proved to be. This was Larry Holmes being kind to Muhammad Ali, although, given there was no option of whispering, "stop it, ref", they played it out to the end, Djokovic almost gearing back in the final set to win 6-3, 6-3, 6-1. It was hard to believe we were watching a current and former world No1.
Before Ferrero grabbed a service game back when two sets and 5–0 down, Boris Becker reflected the universal sympathy for him when he observed, "I don't know how much of his Wimbledon he's got left but I hope he's enjoyed his afternoon."
Later, the winner was as gracious as he invariably is, and the loser managed to avoid looking totally sheepish. "He's never easy to play against on any surface," Djokovic said. "He showed his quality in the first two sets. I was nervous. It's normal. I haven't played on grass for 12 months and I'm really glad to be back on Centre Court."
His 13th ace was his last of the match, an emphatic full point to a performance that started as if he had never seen grass before and steadily grew into a commanding exhibition of the modern game in full flow. It is slightly frightening to think what he is capable of over the next fortnight.
Federer was cultivated grace from ruthless start to inevitable finish against Ramos, who was having only his second game on grass after his debut against Josh Goodall in trying to qualify two years ago. Ramos, 24 and ranked 43 in the world, 40 places below the Swiss, was never remotely in the match, taking a single game in each set. This was not only the first time Federer has played away from Centre Court in the first round in nine years, it was his easiest ever win at the start of the tournament, as he became only the seventh player to post 60 career wins at Wimbledon.
The records always seem to be tumbling about Federer or lingering within his grasp but the achievement that might crown his career would be to win the title for the seventh time, reclaiming the No1 ranking from Djokovic in the process.
He put nine aces past Ramos and despite a dip in serving efficiency in the third set – down from 82% in the first to 50% – he was generally irresistible. When Federer's serve is clicking the rest of his game falls into place, as Ramos found to his cost. "I was able to break him almost every single time," Federer said. "I felt good out there."
If Djokovic declared himself honoured and buzzing to be walking on to Centre Court for the first time as the title holder, Federer skated over being shunted out to Court No1. "The court played perfectly," he said. "It was virtually brand new. That felt special in its own way. I love playing on Monday. We had a great atmosphere."
And you can be absolutely sure he does not want to see Court No1 again for quite a while; the big stage is where Federer feels most comfortable and if this workout showed anything, it was that his impenetrable confidence and self-belief are firmly in place.
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