Meissner, the 16-year-old from Bel Air, hit most of her jumps, including a triple-triple combination. She said that, stepping off the ice, she knew her scores would be good.
Meissner finished sixth in the Olympics last month. Returning home to Maryland, she missed 1 1/2 weeks of practice, fighting a cold and a ruptured eardrum.
But she said last night that she feels healthy.
"I felt really good out there," she said. "I was pretty confident. I wasn't thinking too much on my jumps; I just did them."
Sasha Cohen, the U.S. champion who said her silver medal in the Olympics felt like a present, had an even worse performance in qualifying here than in Turin. After a superb start, she fell twice, stepped out of another jump and wound up third behind Japan's Fumie Suguri and Meissner.
It was the opposite of her struggles in the free skate in Italy, where she blew her shot for gold with two errors in the opening moments.
"Definitely, you have to be able to handle pressure and shake off any mistake, and I kind of didn't do that tonight," said Cohen, winner of world silver the previous two years. "I let that first mistake creep in. I have to be tougher."
Meissner and Suguri were in a virtual tie atop the late group, separated by .04 of a point. Suguri, the fourth-place finisher in Turin, had the slight edge, mainly because Meissner struggled a bit on her spins.
Earlier yesterday, Canadian champion Joannie Rochette thrilled the crowd by winning her qualifying group with an elegant free skate that surpassed her performance at the Olympics, in which she finished fifth.
China's Pang Qing and Tong Jian, who, a month ago, barely missed the medals stand in the Olympics, won the world pairs championship.
Ranked third in a nation in which pairs rule the roost, they charged past countrymen Zhang Dan and Zhang Hao for the title.
Olympic silver medalists Zhang and Zhang - the latter best remembered for coming back from a horrific fall in the Turin free skate - were second, followed by Russia's Maria Petrova and Alexei Tikhonov.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.