By Martyn Herman
LONDON (Reuters) - The champagne cork that popped in the first game of Andy Murray's thrashing of Blaz Rola may have been premature, but the defending Wimbledon champion has already thrown down the gauntlet to his rivals.
Fans toasted the home favourite as he arrived on Court One for his second round match and were then royally entertained as Murray rolled over Rola 6-1 6-1 6-0 for his 15th win in a row at the All England Club since his defeat by Roger Federer in the 2012 final - and the easiest.
Last year's beaten finalist Novak Djokovic will be desperate to quell the latest outbreak of Murray mania should they meet in the semis next week, but on Wednesday the Serbian top seed was simply happy to squeeze past Czech veteran Radek Stepanek.
Djokovic was in control against the wily 35-year-old for two sets, but his unorthodox opponent dipped into his bag of tricks to snatch the third on a tiebreak and came within a whisker of dragging the 2011 champion into a nervy decider.
No wonder Djokovic, who showed remarkable sportsmanship by conceding a crucial point in the fourth set, looked a relieved man as he walked off with a 6-4 6-3 6-7(5) 7-6(5) victory.
"On the one hand it was fun to be part of, but on the other I should not have complicated my life," Djokovic said.
A year after the mayhem that saw seeds stumble and fall in all directions on what became known as Wipeout Wednesday, it proved a less dramatic third day this time, despite the best efforts of crowd-pleasing Stepanek.
But there were still plenty of upsets.
Spain's David Ferrer, seeded seven, watched 77 winners fly off rising Russian Andrey Kuznetsov's racket as he lost a five-setter that marked his earliest grand slam exit since 2010.
Women's eighth seed and former world No.1 Victoria Azarenka still looked rusty after a long injury lay-off and was knocked out by Serbia's Bojana Jovanovski.
SHRIEKS AND GROANS
A match full of shrieks, groans and grunts from two of the noisiest players on the women's tour seemed to have swung Azarenka's way when she levelled after a slow start, but she then slipped to a 6-3 3-6 7-5 defeat.
Another to perish was 12th seed Ernests Gulbis, whose hopes of making an impact similar to his semi-final run at Roland Garros, ended in a 6-4 6-3 7-6(5) defeat by Sergiy Stakhovsky, the Ukrainian who played seven-time champion Roger Federer off the court at the same stage last year.
When Murray lost to Stepanek at nearby Queen's Club a fortnight ago it caused some furrowed brows among his followers, but Rola, playing only his fourth grasscourt match, never looked capable of troubling the champion.
In total control, Murray pummelled away backhands, produced delicate lobs and those grass-hugging slices that have driven far better opponents than Rola to distraction.
Former U.S. college student Rola, playing against a top-20 player for the first time, had the temerity to earn a break point in each of the first two sets. Both times Murray responded with a booming ace.
"When you are in a position to win a match like that, you have to try and do it as quickly as possible, because all of the players in this tournament are good players," Murray, whose next opponent is Spanish 27th seed Roberto Bautista Agut, told reporters.
Lurking in Murray's quarter is 11th seed Grigor Dimitrov, a Bulgarian who has also yet to drop a set after his confident 6-3 6-2 6-4 defeat of Australian upstart Luke Saville put him in the Wimbledon third round for the first time.
Tomas Berdych was made to work far harder against Saville's more established compatriot Bernard Tomic, the Czech prevailing in four sets, as he did when the pair met in the round of 16 last year, 4-6 7-6(5) 7-6(3) 6-1.
The sixth seed's reward is another tough match-up in the third round; this time against Croatian Marin Cilic.
American Five-time champion Venus Williams moved on serenely, reaching the third round of a major for the first time in 18 months by beating Japan's Kurumi Nara 7-6(4) 6-1.
Illness and injuries have robbed hers of some of her powers in recent years, but the 30th seed is determined to keep her sister, world No.1 Serena, company in the singles.
"I guess I haven't held up my end of the bargain," the 34-year-old, who missed last year's tournament and exited in the first round in 2012, said of her struggles. "I tried. I just haven't had the luck I've wanted."
She will face 2011 champion Petra Kvitova next after the powerful Czech hurried past Germany's Mona Barthel 6-2 6-0.
Other women's seeds flourished, with world No.2 Li Na untroubled by Austria's Yvonne Meusburger and 2012 runner-up Agnieszka Radwanska, seeded four, posting an easy win against Australia's Casey Dellacqua.
(Editing by Pritha Sarkar and David Goodman)