Rafael Nadal reacts after winning the second set in his opening-round Wimbledon match against Martin Klizan. (Reuters)
LONDON — Rafael 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 littered with big names began with a tearful Bartoli enjoying 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 in south west London, Nadal initially looked in peril as he lost the first set before winning 4-6, 6-3, 6-3, 6-3 to rack up his 700th main tour win.
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.
Seven-time champion Roger Federer, relegated to the Court One for the day, stole the show, however, with a dazzling 6-1, 6-1, 6-3 defeat of Italian journeyman Paolo Lorenzi.
Lleyton Hewitt, the 2002 champion, led an impressive Australian charge when the 33-year-old warrior beat Poland’s Michal Przysiezny in four sets to open his 61st grand slam tournament in typically pugnacious fashion.
Serena Williams began her quest for a sixth women’s singles title with a 6-1, 6-2 victory over fellow American Anna Tatishvili on Centre Court after the All England Club gave the honour of opening play on what is known as Ladies Day to last year’s runner-up Sabine Lisicki.
In normal circumstances Bartoli would have played Centre Court’s opening match — the honor traditionally bestowed on the defending women’s champion on the first Tuesday of the slam.
As it turned out Lisicki 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.
Defeat by dreadlocked German Dustin Brown in Halle this month had hardly fueled Nadal’s confidence, but he reacted with typical ferocity to win.
The world No.1, seeded second 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.”