Japan's Yuzuru Hanyu, who is chasing a third world title, earned 106.98 points to take a comfortable lead after the men's short program at the ISU World Figure Skating Championships in Stockholm, Sweden, on Thursday.
Yuma Kagiyama, a 17-year-old Japanese who was the 2020 Youth Olympic Games champion, impressed in his worlds debut to place second on a personal best 100.96 points. Defending champion Nathan Chen of the United States fell on his opening jump and took third with a score of 98.85.
"For today I did the best I could," said two-time Olympic champion Hanyu, who won the world title in 2017 before Chen won the next two.
The 2020 worlds in Montreal were canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
"I have to get myself in perfect physical condition before the free skate and eke out every bit of performance from my body," Hanyu added.
Hanyu, who is competing in his first international event this season after opting to train alone in Japan during the coronavirus pandemic, landed a quad salchow, quad toe-triple toe combination, and then a triple axel, skating to the Robbie Williams song "Let Me Entertain You."
The 26-year-old Japanese reunited with his Canada-based coach Brian Orser in Stockholm after almost a year apart, and said he feels grateful to have a supporter at his side.
"Last year the worlds were suddenly canceled and I felt like I lost a sense of purpose. It makes me happy that (this year) even under the circumstances we have a place to show the hard work we've done," he said.
Hanyu's best-credentialed rival in Stockholm is double world champion Chen, who fell while attempting an opening quadruple lutz, but recovered with a triple axel and a quad flip-triple toe. Chen is undefeated since winning his first world title in 2018.
Of the 24 skaters who made the free skate cut, Chen will take the ice 22nd, Kagiyama 23rd, and Hanyu will appear last. Hanyu will take more than an eight-point advantage over Chen into the men's free skate, which is set for Saturday.
No spectators are allowed to attend the March 22-28 competition at the Ericsson Globe venue, which serves as a qualifying event for the 2022 Olympic Winter Games in Beijing.