LONDON (Reuters) - Rafa Nadal and Maria Sharapova led a parade of former champions into the Wimbledon second round on Tuesday after Marion Bartoli briefly lit up Centre Court without swinging her racket.
An order of play overloaded with A-listers began with a tearful Bartoli milking a standing ovation from a packed Centre Court as she returned to the scene of her triumph last year.
Having retired a few weeks after her fairytale run at Wimbledon the Frenchwoman no longer has to contend with the stress and strain of the tour but for twice former champion Nadal and 2004 winner Sharapova, there is no respite.
Just 16 days after claiming an unprecedented ninth French Open crown, Nadal was forced to fend off big-hitting Slovakian Martin Klizan in a ferocious Centre Court duel.
Wary of his hopes withering early again after winning only one match in his previous two visits to the grasscourt citadel, Nadal looked in peril as he lost the first set before catching fire to claim his 700th main tour win with a 4-6 6-3 6-3 6-3 victory.
Russian fifth seed Sharapova, like Nadal, is also attempting to complete a daunting Roland Garros-Wimbledon double but unlike the Spaniard was able to conserve energy for the battles ahead with a 6-1 6-0 thrashing of British wildcard Samantha Murray.
As he often does, seven-times champion Roger Federer, relegated to Court One for the day, stole the show with a dazzling 6-1 6-1 6-3 defeat of Italian journeyman Paolo Lorenzi.
Not to be outdone, world No.1 Serena Williams, who is tied with Federer on 17 grand slams, began her quest for a sixth Wimbledon crown with a 6-1 6-2 defeat of fellow American Anna Tatishvili.
“Hopefully I’ll get my bearings a little bit and get better,” Williams, who has struggled to scale the heights she achieved last year, told reporters.
In normal circumstances Bartoli would have played Centre Court’s opening match - the honour traditionally bestowed on the defending women’s champion on the first Tuesday of the slam.
She still kept her appointment, albeit clad in a summery cream outfit and platform shoes rather than tennis attire.
Holding her hand was a young player from the tennis academy set up by British player Elena Baltacha, who recently succumbed to cancer. It was a typically classy piece of organisation by the All England Club and a moving moment for Bartoli.
“I‘m sorry I got so emotional - I couldn’t hold my tears being on the Centre Court and supporting #Rally4Bally at Wimbledon,” Bartoli said on Twitter.
As it turned out Sabine Lisicki, last year’s runner-up, performed the stand-in role beautifully, easing past Israel’s Julia Glushko 6-2 6-1.
For all the early theatre, it was Nadal who provided the day’s real drama as he flirted with danger.
Trailing by a set and staring at two breaks points on his serve early in the second it seemed the 28-year-old’s recent grasscourt gremlins were returning to haunt him.
Defeat by obscure German Dustin Brown in Halle this month had hardly fuelled Nadal’s confidence but he reacted with typical ferocity to win.
The world No.1, seeded two at Wimbledon, will now get the chance to gain revenge for his harrowing second round defeat by hard-hitting Czech Lukas Rosol two years ago.
“I am excited to be back here, to win a match at Wimbledon on Centre Court,” the 2008 and 2010 champion told reporters.
“When you go on court and you lost last year in the first round, the year before in the second round, I‘m not going to lie it stays in your mind.”
“INSPIRED AND MOTIVATED”
Federer’s staggering Wimbledon record was rudely interrupted in the second round by Sergiy Stakhovsky last year but the 32-year-old Swiss looks in the mood for a title tilt after swatting aside Lorenzi for his 269th grand slam match victory.
“I‘m very happy getting through my first round. I thought I played very well,” Federer, tied with American Pete Sampras on seven Wimbledon titles, said.
“What you want to feel is inspired and motivated. I‘m trying to win the tournament, that’s what I‘m here for.”
Stanislas Wawrinka can only marvel at fellow Swiss Federer’s feats at Wimbledon, but the fifth seed at least managed to avoid a sixth first-round exit on Tuesday, overpowering Portuguese claycourt specialist Joao Sousa 6-3 6-4 6-3.
Like Federer, 2002 champion Lleyton Hewitt is contesting his 61st major and the 33-year-old showed his warrior-spirit remains undiminished with a four-set slog past Michal Przysiezny.
“You don’t get sick of coming out here and playing at Wimbledon,” Hewitt, one of five Australian men to reach the second round, the most since 1999, said.
Day Two’s biggest casualty was seventh-seeded Serbian former world number one Jelena Jankovic who managed a mere five games in her defeat by Estonia’s Kaia Kanepi.
There were no alarms for French Open runner-up Simona Halep as the third seed beat Teliana Pereira of Brazil 6-2 6-2.
American teenager Madison Keys, a dark horse for the title after winning in Eastbourne last week, cruised past Puerto Rico’s Monica Puig, while 2012 runner-up Agnieszka Radwanska completed her first round win over Romanian Andreea Mitu.
Editing by David Goodman and Pritha Sarkar