Brian Dick watches three cases of demolition unfold in quick time...
In what sounds something like the title of a Michael Gambon film, The Champion, Her Predecessor and The World No 1 began their assaults on the Wimbledon title yesterday as the Ladies Singles competition finally came to life.
After a first-day washout and the methodical start to the two-pronged attack by the Belgians Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin-Hardenne on Tuesday, it was only on day three that the battle to be crowned queen of All England ceased to be a phoney war.
And all three, Venus Williams, defending her crown, Maria Sharapova, winner here in 2004 and Amelie Mauresmo, seeded No 1 and top of the rankings, adopted shock and awe tactics to overpower their first-round opponents.
It is difficult to say who was more impressive. They all finished their matches inside an hour and dropped just three games between them to set alight a top half of the draw that also contains the dangerous Russians, Anastasia Myskina and Dinara Safina.
Perhaps Mauresmo will be more pleased than the others. Confined to Court Two - the seeds' graveyard - she completely embarrassed Ivana Abramovic 6-0, 6-0.
The Frenchwoman, buoyed by the first Grand Slam title of her career at the Australian Open this year, is looking to break a run of three consecutive semi-finals.
The manner of her victory, a first-serve percentage of 87 and a willingness to take control of the net, will resonate around Aorangi Park and send out the message that maybe this Mauresmo has more about her than the mentally fragile player who made a habit of stumbling at the final hurdle.
"It's one of the great matches I've played here," Mauresmo admitted afterwards. "I don't know if the fact that my opponent was not so good also made it easy for me. It's tough to judge."
She was ruthless. She stormed through the first set in 19 minutes and broke her opponent three times.
A vicious forehand return brought up set point and once Mauresmo drew the Croat into the net, she had the simple task of volleying into the empty court.
The second set took a minute longer although Abramovic won just six points in the six games. Once more, it was a big forehand that brought proceedings to a head.
With two match points, Mauresmo thumped a return back to the server's baseline, forcing her to go long and admit defeat in one of the most one-sided matches of the championships so far.
Sharapova, first on Court One, towered over her first challenger of the week, Anna Smashnova, both physically and technically.
The former champion was brutal in the way she set about the Israeli's patsy serve and broke her half-a-dozen times to prevail 6-2, 6-0.
Although she looked uncomfortable at the net in the first set and drove one backhand volley wildly long to surrender her serve and give Smashnova her first game of the match, the bruising forehand and probing backhand were in full working order.
Perhaps most pleasingly, though, the 19-year-old produced two aces to bring up three set points, the first of which was converted with a forehand into an open court.
The second set took just 24 minutes as Smashnova was allowed just seven points and Sharapova took complete control, even serve-volleying on three points.
"I deserve a medal for that," the Russian quipped. Whenever she arrives in Britain, she is subjected to questions about her approach.
Clearly happier firing big groundstrokes from the back of the court, Sharapova fields queries about her style in good humour and accepts that she could stray from her comfort zone more often.
"I am trying to take my chances when I get a short ball to definitely try and move in a bit more. I have lost a few matches because I have been tentative to come up there," she said.
"I have seen tapes of myself when I was ten and 11 years old and I hit volleys, drop shots and slices. I am really good at it - it is just a matter of bringing that on to the court."
Seeded fourth and playing better than she was when she came here to defend her title last year, the Siberian is a genuine contender for the 2006 title.
For her part ,Williams defused with ease a potentially tricky first match against Bethanie Mattek. The champion's big serve and willingness to go for the lines were too much for her compatriot as she breezed through 6-1, 6-0.
The first set passed in a flash and the second was lit up by a spectacular shoulder-high drive-volley at 15-0 in the third game. It was one of many occasions when Mattek, clad in hotpants and knee-high socks and reminiscent of a member of the Red Hand Gang, appeared not to be trying to run down a Williams rocket but looking for cover instead.
A trademark 118 mph serve gave the sixth seed three match points but she only needed one of them as Mattek hit long for the umpteenth time.
It was a cheery Williams who turned up afterwards and admitted she had been late for her practice session this morning.
"It's not like he can tell me off anymore," she said in reference to the father she kept waiting.
"She was a worthy opponent but it seemed like I had all the answers when she came up with the good shots."