WIMBLEDON, England (AP) – Twelve months ago, Lindsay Davenport was so unsure whether she’d ever play again at Wimbledon she cried as she left.

The drive required to be a champion was fading, she thought. Did she have another major title in her? If not, it was time to give up tennis, walk away from a touring pro’s vagabond existence, and spend more time enjoying life as a newlywed.

And then: Snap! Just like that, Davenport was winning enough to get back to No. 1 in the rankings, enough to feel like a contender at big events. And so she did return Monday, after all, to the site of one of her three major titles, beating Alina Jidkova of Russia 6-0, 6-2 to move into the second round of what shapes up as the most competitive women’s Grand Slam tournament in quite awhile.

“Sitting here a year ago, I just felt like I was losing that little inner fire that you need to always be at the top,” the 29-year-old Davenport said. “After I left here, it got relit. I don’t know how else to describe it.”

Day 1 at a Slam is rarely full of significant surprises, and this one was no different. Preceding Davenport on Centre Court was Roger Federer, who walked out precisely at 1 p.m. to a partial standing ovation, gave a royal semi-wave, then opened his bid for a third straight Wimbledon championship by dismissing Paul-Henri Mathieu 6-4, 6-2, 6-4.

After Davenport, two-time major winner Marat Safin put aside his oft-mentioned distaste for grass and easily eliminated former top-10 player Paradorn Srichaphan 6-2, 6-4, 6-4.

“I definitely feel sort of relieved,” Federer said. “You’re into the tournament, you’ve seen the fans, and you don’t have to leave right away. So that’s nice.”

Davenport departed in 2004 saying she had reached a point where wins didn’t excite her, and losses didn’t sting, so she was “pretty confident” it would be her last Wimbledon, and her last season.

Yet after a semifinal loss to Maria Sharapova at the All England Club, Davenport produced a 22-match winning streak on hard courts, including four titles. She reached the U.S. Open semifinals in September, then the Australian Open final in January.

For the first time since Wimbledon in 2003, the two Williams sisters, Justine Henin-Hardenne and Kim Clijsters, former No. 1 players all, are at a major together.

Injuries and illness have sidelined each, depriving the sport of rivalries that were blossoming when members of that quartet filled both finalist spots at eight consecutive Slams from 2002-04.

“It would be great if we could get everybody playing healthy and playing their best,” said Davenport, who had right knee surgery in 2002 and foot surgery the next year, “and then seeing what happens.”

Clijsters, Mauresmo and Kuznetsova won in straight sets, as did two-time Slam finalist Elena Dementieva, while 2004 French Open champion Anastasia Myskina overcame nine service breaks and a 3-0 deficit in the third set to win.

Truly, the most pleasant surprise was the weather. Last year, two days of play were completely washed out in the first week, and matches were played on the middle Sunday for only the third time since 1877.

Around the grounds Monday, spectators applied sunscreen, folded pieces of paper into makeshift fans and sought out patches of shade for respite as the mercury approached 90 degrees. As one London newspaper’s front-page headline put it: “Caribbean temperatures for London.”

Didn’t bother Davenport in the least. She hit four consecutive aces at up to 110 mph to end the first set after just 19 minutes, then didn’t linger much longer in the second set against her 78th-ranked opponent.

It felt good to be back.

“I remember last year, crying a little bit when I left, thinking: Oh, I might not be playing here again,”‘ Davenport said. “I feel like kind of on a little bit of borrowed time.”


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