|Federer takes the plaudits after pulling off his outrageous shot [AFP]
One magical point from Roger Federer capped an exhilarating first day at the US Open as a host of former champions each took their turn in the Flushing Meadows spotlight.
Five of the former champions were on court playing matches while another, Martina Navratilova, was the guest of honour on Monday.
Belgium's Kim Clijsters and the Americans Venus Williams and Andy Roddick, all joined Federer by winning their first round matches at Arthur Ashe Stadium in straight sets.
It was a stifling hot day in New York but they all made light work of their opponents with Federer stealing the show with an outrageous between-the-legs winner during his 6-1 6-4 6-2 romp against Argentine baseliner Brian Dabul.
Reminiscent of his shot against Novak Djokovic in last year's semi-finals, the miraculous winner not only brought the capacity crowd to their feet but served as proof that his quest for a 17th grand slam title is back on course.
"I've only hit a few in my life and two on center court in night session play here in New York," the five-time winner told his audience.
"It's amazing to share this moment with you guys. Thanks for the ovation and I love it."
Only one former champion failed to make it past the first day. Australia's Lleyton Hewitt fell to unheralded Frenchman Paul-Henri Mathieu 6-3 6-4 5-7 4-6 6-1 at the Louis Armstrong stadium.
Hewitt won the US Open title in 2001 when he toppled Pete Sampras but his best days appear long past even though he had no plans to retire.
"I still believe I can improve as a player," said the former world number one, who was seeded 32nd.
As Hewitt bid his farewell, his former fiancee Clijsters celebrated her maiden appearance as a defending grand slam champion four years after she won her first US Open title.
Now married to American basketballer Brian Lynch, Clijsters returned to the scene of her greatest triumphs with a 6-0 7-5 win over Hungarian Greta Arn.
"It couldn't have come any faster," she explained after missing the 2006 tournament with a wrist problem then 2007 and 2008 to start a family.
Monday also marked a return of sorts for Roddick and Williams, who have both been battling niggling injuries for the past two months.
Roddick claimed his only grand slam title at Flushing Meadows in 2003 while Williams won the second of her two US Opens the same year Hewitt won his.
They may not move as fast as they once did but they can both still wallop the ball and they know how to scratch out a win, Roddick celebrating his 28th birthday by blasting aside France's Stephane Robert 6-3 6-2 6-2 and Williams outclassing Italian Roberta Vinci 6-4 6-1.
Williams made her first US Open final back in 1997, two years before her younger sister Serena announced her arrival by winning the family's first singles title.
Serena is missing this year, forced to withdraw after slicing her foot on a piece of glass, leaving the elder sibling to carry on alone.