Williams, a seven-time Grand Slam champion, has fallen to 58th in the rankings since being diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. She lost the first five games on Court 2 to the 79th-ranked Russian and, although she picked up her game and fought hard, was never able to turn the match around.
It was the first time Williams lost in the opening round of a Grand Slam since the 2006 Australian Open— the first at Wimbledon since her debut appearance in 1997.
“I come into tournaments with a positive attitude,” Williams said. “I don’t really feel like talking about my health now. It is what it is. I’m just a couple of months into getting back on tour. Life is challenging but I’m always up for a challenge.”
Defending men’s champion Novak Djokovic had no opening day troubles, beating former No. 1 Juan Carlos Ferrero 6-3, 6-3, 6-1 in the first match on Centre Court. Top-seeded Maria Sharapova and six-time champ Roger Federer were also in action on a cloudy but dry opening day of the two-week grass court championships.
The 25-year-old Vesnina, who reached the fourth round here in 2009, played smart and steady baseline tennis to keep Williams at bay. It took 30 minutes before Williams won a game. But Vesnina broke right back to close out the set with a forehand winner.
The second set was much more contested, but once the Russian broke again for a 4-2 lead, she was in full control. Three games later, Vesnina cracked a big first serve on match point and Williams slapped a forehand return into the net.
Playing in her 16th straight Wimbledon, the 32-year-old Williams was unseeded for the first time since 1997. She was coming off a second-round loss at the French Open to Agnieszka Radwanska.
Williams has been champion or runner-up at the All England Club eight of the past 12 years, with her last title coming in 2008. The three losses in finals all came against younger sister Serena.
Williams revealed in late August at the U.S. Open that she had been diagnosed with Sjogren’s syndrome, an autoimmune condition that can cause fatigue and joint pain. She skipped the Australian Open in January, before returning to the tour in March in a bid to earn a berth on the U.S Olympic team for the London Games.
Djokovic, meanwhile, made a smooth transition to grass after his loss in the French Open final to Rafael Nadal.
In keeping with tradition, the defending men’s champ got the honor of opening play on Centre Court.
Djokovic, bidding for a sixth Grand Slam title, was broken in his second service game as he slipped behind the baseline on break point and couldn’t return the shot. But he held serve the rest of the way, losing only nine points on his first serve and finishing with 13 aces.
Ferrero, a 32-year-old Spaniard who won the French Open in 2003 and reached No. 1 in the world that year, was never able to mount a challenge on the fast surface.
Play began right on time at 11:30 a.m. on the outside courts under cloudy skies but without any threat of the rain that has soaked London and parts of Britain for much of the past few weeks. Temperatures reached 72 degrees.
Federer was to play Albert Ramos of Spain on Court 1 — the first time since 2003 that he wasn’t assigned to Centre Court for the opening round.
In early matches, the third-seeded Radwanska and Grand Slam champions Sam Stosur and Li Na won in straights sets to move into the second round.
Radwanska, who has twice reached the quarterfinals at Wimbledon, beat Magdalena Rybarikova of Slovakia 6-3, 6-3 in the day’s first match on Court 2. The Polish player will next face Vesnina.
Rybarikova took an injury timeout after her left leg gave way and she fell behind the baseline while trailing 2-1 in the second set. After treatment, she returned to the match with her leg heavily wrapped and did not seem bothered by it the rest of the way.
The fifth-seeded Stosur, the 2011 U.S. Open champion, cruised to a 6-1, 6-3 win over Carla Suarez-Navarro of Spain.
Li, the 2011 French Open champion who is seeded No. 11, swept past Ksenia Pervak of Russia 6-3, 6-1. No. 15 Sabine Lisicki of Germany, a semifinalist last year, beat Petra Martic of Croatia 6-4, 6-2.
The first seed eliminated was No. 16 Flavia Pennetta, who fell 6-4, 6-3 to fellow Italian Camila Giorgi.