WIMBLEDON, England -- Germany's Karsten Braasch is not the kind of guy you want to face on a tennis court.
He looks like he should be batting cleanup for a beer league softball team. He wears goggles. He has a beard. And then, there is his serve. It's not just ugly, it's confusing.
Oh, and he's a lefty.
That's why it wasn't all that surprising yesterday when Pete Sampras began defense of his Wimbledon men's title by struggling against Braasch on Centre Court. Eventually, Sampras squeezed out a 7-6 (7-4), 6-7 (2-7), 6-4, 6-1 victory.
But it wasn't pretty.
Sampras basically said that playing against Braasch is a pain in the posterior.
And Braasch, labeled Germany's "people's champion," because he smokes, drinks and once showed up at the wrong tournament, smiled.
"Thank you," he said.
By the way, who taught him that serve?
"Some tennis teachers in my hometown," he said. "Probably, they weren't good."
It was that kind of day at Wimbledon. The weather was perfect. The All England Club was packed. And the tennis, was, well, typically nervous.
There's a lot at stake here. Sampras is aiming for his third straight title, and he had to work the kinks out of his game as he raised his career Wimbledon record to 21-4.
He tried to adjust to the lush Centre Court grass. He kept prodding the new, slightly deflated tennis balls that are being used to put a brake on the power game that has laid waste to grass-court tennis.
"I think the softer tennis balls will affect the guys that don't serve as well," Sampras said. "When maybe last year a mediocre serve would be helped out by a harder ball, this year, it's a little softer, so you have a little bit more time to return."
But drawing Braasch wasn't easy.
"I thought I could have played better," Sampras said. "I would have liked to win in straight sets. It's a good one to get through. It's always good to get through the first round in a major."
Just ask Richard Krajicek, the No. 12 seed.
The Dutchman with the big serve was taken apart by unseeded American Bryan Shelton, 7-6 (7-2), 6-3, 6-3. Shelton was an early loser in the Queen's Club tuneup tournament two weeks ago, and said he was down in the dumps. But then, he picked up his Wimbledon players pass, and, suddenly, he was ready to play.
At Wimbledon, Shelton has a habit of springing first-round surprises. Last year, coming out of the qualifiers, he stunned No. 2 seed Michael Stich and went on to the round of 16.
"I don't think this win was quite as big as last year's," Shelton said. "I was just trying to keep a good attitude on the court."
No. 4 Goran Ivanisevic, No. 5 Michael Chang, No. 7 Wayne Ferreira, No. 14 Todd Martin and No. 16 Guy Forget advanced.
There was even a blast from the tennis past when Sweden's Mats Wilander, once the world No. 1, matched Britain's Mark Petchey junk ball for junk ball and won, 7-6 (7-3), 6-1, 6-2.
In his prime, Wilander won three of the four Grand Slams. He took the French Open at 17, and said he "lost respect for the tournament."
But even though he never could conquer Wimbledon, Wilander always held Centre Court in awe.
"For me, for all I know, this could have been a quarterfinal or a semifinal," he said. "I think every match is a big match, especially when you get on a court like this."
Does he have any regrets about not winning at Wimbledon?
"Not at all," he said. "I think the only way you can feel regret is if I never tried to play here. That isn't the case. I think maybe my life is easier not having won Wimbledon than it would have been if I won Wimbledon in 1988."
Ex-champions Andre Agassi, Boris Becker, Michael Stich, Pat Cash and Stefan Edberg are scheduled for first-round matches today.
In yesterday's women's draw, No. 6 Japan's Kimiko Date led the seeds through easy first-round opponents.
Other winners were No. 8 Gabriela Sabatini, No. 12 Amy Frazier, No. 15 Brenda Schultz-McCarthy and No. 16 Helena Sukova.
The only seed to falter was No. 11 Iva Majoli of Croatia, who lost, 1-6, 6-3, 6-1, to Angelica Gavaldon, 21, who lives in Coronado, Calif.
Today, reigning women's champion Conchita Martinez is scheduled to play Asa Carlsson. Steffi Graf will meet Martina Hingis, 14.