Wimbledon has come to expect fighting instincts and effortless power from Serena Williams but the raw tears she shed after beating Aravane Rezai on Tuesday betrayed just how much torment she has suffered since holding the trophy aloft last year.
Roger Federer began his bid for a seventh Wimbledon title with a solid 7-6 6-4 6-2 win over Mikhail Kukushkin but it was the emotional Williams who captivated the crowd in blustery conditions on Centre Court.
After crunching down an ace to earn a 6-3 3-6 6-1 victory over the tenacious Frenchwoman, seventh-seeded Williams, bidding for a third consecutive Wimbledon title, covered her face and wept before walking off to generous applause from a Centre Court crowd delighted to see her back on the hallowed turf.
"It's been so hard, I never dreamt I would be here right now," the 29-year-old American, who only returned to action last week in Eastbourne after 49 weeks out with a foot injury and a pulmonary embolism that she said last week had left her on her death bed.
"I just wanted to win just one match here seeing as I'm not playing doubles, it was just a really big win for.
"It's been so hard and a disaster year for me, but I've been praying and I have my family here and I just love tennis," added 13-times grand slam champion Williams who along with older sibling Venus has reigned supreme at the All England Club for most of the last decade.
Andy Roddick, another American who has become a favourite son in this leafy suburb of London courtesy of his three final defeats by Roger Federer, also progressed to the second round.
The 28-year-old, playing in his 11th Wimbledon, beat German qualifier Andreas Beck 6-4 7-6 6-3 on Court One to maintain his record of always reaching the second round.
Argentina's Juan Martin del Potro also made up for lost time, the 2009 U.S. Open champion crushing Italy's Flavio Cipolla 6-1 6-4 6-3.
Novak Djokovic, whose 43-match winning run was ended by Federer in the French Open semi-finals, begins his quest for a first Wimbledon title later against Frenchman Jeremy Chardy. Women's top seed Caroline Wozniacki is also in action.
On the day that Nicolas Mahut and John Isner face each other in a sequel to last year's freakish 11-hour battle of survival, it was the fit-again Williams who remained centre of attention.
Almost a year after beating Vera Zvonareva to win her fourth singles title on Centre Court, Williams returned to her favourite stage having played just two competitive matches in the 11 months since after gashing her foot and suffering life-threatening blood clots.
If she had hoped for a sedate opener, however, she was sadly mistaken.
With an alarm waling in the stands and spots of rain falling from the cloudy skies, the first game lasted nine minutes in which time Williams was foot-faulted twice, made rudimentary errors and even had trouble with her silver hair band. To make matters worse Rezai came out swinging from the hip and looked in the mood to cause a shock.
Williams, who had never lost a grand slam first round in the 43 she has contested, slipped 2-0 behind but soon found the swagger and reeled off the next five games.
Rezai hit back to level after breaking in the sixth game of the second set before Williams regained control and swept through the decider in 25 minutes.
The two surprise women's semi-finalists from last year both eased through to the second round.
Czech left-hander Petra Kvitova beat America's Alexa Glatch 6-2 6-2 and Bulgaria's Tvetana Pironkova followed shortly after with a 6-2 6-1 win over Italian Camila Giorgi.
Former world number one Jelena Jankovic became the highest women's seed to fall when she crashed 5-7 6-4 6-3 to Spain's Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez.