Sarah Meier held less than a half-point lead over Carolina Kostner after the short program at the European Figure Skating Championships on Friday.
Meier scored 60.49 to Kostner's 60.46. Both skaters were well ahead of the rest. Elene Gedevahishvili of Georgia was third with 54.62.
Dressed in a neon pink top and flowery dress, Meier nailed her triple lutz-double toe loop combination, plus a triple flip and double axel in an elegant program to "Concierto de Aranjuez."
"I was very, very nervous," the Swiss national champion said. "I'm very proud that I was able to do a good short program."
But Meier, who's had a breakout season with a win at the Cup of Russia, said sometimes the jitters help her focus.
"It's good when I'm a little nervous because then I can concentrate. I tell myself: 'it's only two or three minutes, now it counts and I have to give 100 percent.'"
Kostner looked unhampered in her first competition since tearing a ligament in her left ankle in September. The injury kept her off the ice for some two months.
"It feels great" to be back, she said. "I was a little more nervous that usual because I know all these girls have been doing competitions all year and this is my first big competition. It's like I'm the outsider."
Wearing a baby blue dress, the 19-year-old Italian said her ankle didn't bother her during her flowing program to a piano rendition of Pachebel's "Canon in D."
She nailed her triple flip-triple toe loop combination, but scaled back her planned triple lutz to a double.
Kostner finished third at last year's competition behind two Russian skaters _ seven-time European champion Irina Slutskaya and Elena Sokolova.
With Slutskaya missing this year and Sokolova in eighth place after a shaky short program, Russia could fail to win a medal in the women's event for the first time since 1993.
A day earlier, the Russian men failed to win spot on the podium for the first time since 1993.
The women's free skate is on Saturday.
Later Friday, ice dancers Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder lead ahead of the free dance and look to capture France's second title at the championships after Brian Joubert's victory in the men's competition a day earlier.