Speedy Sharapova wastes little time in opener
It is a little alarming to think that Maria Sharapova - that would be the 24-year-old Maria Sharapova - won her first Grand Slam title here in SW19 back in 2004. Seven years ago? As someone once said around these parts: "You cannot be serious!"
History, though, does not lie and Sharapova is back in town as what could delicately be described as a "veteran campaigner". But with a wide open draw, no outright favourite to grab the silverware (although Serena Williams has already passed the first audition for that role and is waiting for a call back), Wimbledon's Queen Maria fancies her chances.
She marmalised Anna Chakvetadze 6-2, 6-1 in 68 one-sided minutes to take her first steps towards the trophy and looked pretty good as she did so.
Sharapova has spent the last couple of years suffering from, sorting out and recovering from a shoulder injury and in that time, it did seem as if her time as a Grand Slam contender has gone (after all, a tennis player with a gammy shoulder is about as much use as skydiver with vertigo). Even when the shoulder had healed, Sharapova's serve was not up to much and the double faults cost her dear as she tried to get her career back on track.
But the great Masha is nothing if not a fighter and, refusing to be beaten, she stuck at it. Competitive to her very core, she knew that, injuries permitting, she could still play - now all she had to do was prove it.
And gradually, as the season has worn on, she has done just that. A couple of weeks ago, she reached the semi-finals of the French Open while playing on her weakest surface (she once admitted that she moved like "a cow on ice" on the clay of Roland Garros).
"I feel like I'm improving with every tournament this year," she said with a hint of pride. "At the start of year, my goal was to get a lot of matches. When you have a lot of matches, you sort of play on autopilot. I play my best when I'm aggressive and I'm not thinking too much."
Playing Chakvetadze, she did not have to think too much at all. Her fellow Russian had only taken one set from the former champion in six previous meetings and on a chilly evening on Centre Court, she never looked likely to improve on that record. Indeed, she was not only losing to Sharapova, she was losing to Hawk-Eye, too. If ever a ball looked close to the line, she kept on playing, failed to challenge and then looked ever so slightly crushed when Sharapova walloped a winner.
On the other side of the net, Maria was her usual, focused self. You could run a marching band through Centre Court and Sharapova would not notice until the point was dead. Going through her little rituals at the back of the court and ramping up the shriek, she was determined to get back to the warmth of the locker room as soon as possible.
The serve was behaving itself - only four double faults - while the backhand, the one that had caused so much damage on these courts back in 2004, made a welcome appearance. With a commendable 24 winners and only 11 errors, she was easily in control and now plays Laura Robson or Angelique Kerber for a place in the third round.