Broad brushed off a hostile reception from home fans at the Gabba to take 5-65 and restrict Australia to 273-8 at stumps.
After his controversial role in last summer’s Ashes series, Broad was the subject of much heckling before and during play.
The Brisbane Courier-Mail has even refused to print his name, but Atherton felt Broad thrived in the situation.
Atherton said: “The cricket correspondent is going to have quite a difficult job writing a match report (on the first day’s play) without mentioning his name.
“He is the kind of guy that will react well to all that kind of stuff.
“He is not easily intimidated, he is not easily ignored and he had a great day.”
Andrew Strauss, who captained England to their series victory Down Under three years ago, thought Broad’s performance changed the course of the innings.
Strauss said: “After the first hour I think England were worried.
“They were thinking they were not sure they were going to get many wickets on this.
“Stuart Broad really went hard at Michael Clarke and from that moment on Australia have been on the back foot.
“It was a very professional day’s cricket from England and Australia will be bitterly disappointed.”
Broad claimed the key wicket of Clarke shortly after lunch when he forced the Australia captain to glove a catch off a short-pitched delivery to short leg.
Broad also troubled Clarke in the summer and Atherton believes that is an area of concern for the hosts.
He said: “I think he struggles against the taller bowler.
“Because of his bad back and various things he doesn’t like to duck or finds it difficult to duck, so he likes to stand and play the short ball.
“So if you have got a tall bowler who can get steep bounce from not that short of a length it gets him into difficulties.
“It really couldn’t have gone any worse for Michael Clarke, from a team perspective – this is a below-par score on about as flat a pitch as you can get – and for him personally.”
Another former England captain, Nasser Hussain, was surprised a number of the Australian batsmen had difficulties coping with short-pitched balls.
He said: “It was a bit of role reversal. We used to come here in the old days – or any side from around the world – and get surprised by the bounce at the Gabba, and play shots outside off-stump, nick off and get caught behind.
“It was Australia doing that on this occasion, on their fortress, a ground they don’t lose on and don’t get bowled out cheaply.
“It was a very un-Australian-like performance. There were quite a few soft dismissals at the top.”