Seven-time champion Roger Federer had to claim a pair of tiebreak sets against a player who had never won on grass to wrest his opening match at Wimbledon.
While the third seed was forced to work for his 7-6 (7-5) 7-6 (7-3) 6-3 win over Argentine Guido Pella on Monday, top seed Novak Djokovic had it all his way 6-0 7-6 (7-3) 6-4 over Briton James Ward to begin his title defence.
The number one raced away, winning the first nine games and then lost two in a row in the only competitive set of the match.
“I honestly didn’t expect myself to start that well – nine games in a row, 6-0 3-0,” Djokovic said.
“It was just a matter of time when James would win his first game.”
Federer showed resilience as he broke Pella for 5-3 in the third set and served out a tight victory in two hours as light began to fade on centre court.
“It felt great, I was happy to walk out on court,” said the winner, whose next opponent will be 772nd-ranked Brit Marcus Willis.
“It’s nice to be back here.
“I’ve been working since February to make sure I didn’t miss Wimbledon,” said Federer, who missed the French Open with back pain and underwent a February knee operation.
“I still don’t know if I’m fully fit. This match may have been just what I needed. I was very happy to be there and win it. I’m still on my way back.”
Djokovic, who is looking for his fifth grand slam title on the trot, claimed victory in a shade over two hours with an ace on match point.
Ward, ranked 177th, now goes back to the Challenger ranks after his annual showing at the All England Club. The 29-year-old will be hit with a massive rankings drop of about 100 places after making a surprise third-round appearance a year ago.
Djokovic, who has only lost twice in 47 first-round matches at the majors, could not have been more pleased with his showing.
“For the first nine games, there was not much to say about my game.
“It was flawless and felt great. I put in a very solid performance.”
Djokovic next faces Frenchman Adrian Mannarino, who beat the day’s second Briton, Kyle Edmund 6-2 7-5 6-4.
Japan’s fifth-seeded Kei Nishikori beat Australian Sam Groth 6-4 6-3 7-5 while sixth seed Milos Raonic, with adviser John McEnroe in his corner, started with a defeat of Pablo Carreno Busta 7-6 (7-4) 6-2 6-4.
2014 US Open winner and ninth seed Marin Cilic, seeded ninth, was knocked out by Brian Baker 6-3 7-5 6-3 while Belgian number 11 David Goffin stopped Alexander Ward of Britain 6-2 6-3 6-2.
Spanish 13th seed David Ferrer, who missed the event a year ago with an elbow injury, hammered Dudi Sela 6-2 6-1 6-1 for a second-round spot.
Pierre-Hugues Herbert of France knocked out Stuttgart finalist Philipp Kohlschreiber 7-5 6-3 3-6 6-3 while Ivo Karlovic beat fellow Croatian Borna Coric 7-6 (10-8) 7-6 (9-7) 6-4.
Grigor Dimitrov stopped the rot in a six-match loss streak, defeating US qualifier Bjorn Fratangelo 6-3 6-4 6-2.