(Adds surging ticket demand in paras 9-10)
By Pritha Sarkar
LONDON, June 24 (Reuters) - Since welcoming home a British male grand slam champion is as rare as a sighting of Halley’s Comet, it was little wonder Andy Murray got a standing ovation just for walking on to Wimbledon’s Centre Court on Monday.
The man who ended 76 years of British hurt by lifting the U.S. Open trophy last September did not disappoint on his homecoming as he began his bid to win the most famous prize in tennis with a 6-4 6-3 6-2 win over German Benjamin Becker.
The second seed’s emphatic win on the opening day again raised hopes that Murray will finally pick up the baton from Fred Perry - the last home-grown men’s singles champion at the spiritual home of lawn tennis with his 1936 success.
Just when it seemed Murray might end up joining a long list of brave British souls who promised much but faded away with the finishing line in sight, he proved that losing four grand slam finals would not end up being his legacy.
He collected his first gilded prize on Wimbledon’s Centre Court, albeit an Olympic gold medal, last August before embarking on his triumphant run at Flushing Meadows.
That run of results means expectations for a Murray triumph at Wimbledon this year are sky high and, following Monday’s outing, fans were in a hurry to join the snaking queue outside the All England Club to secure a ticket for his second round match on Wednesday.
“Sorry can’t stop, I have to dash for the queue,” gasped a female fan who would only reveal her first name as Helen because “No one at work knows I‘m going to call in sick for the next two days!”
The fans also knew Murray’s chances of success had unexpectedly rocketed following the demise of twice former Wimbledon champion Rafa Nadal, who had been the favourite to meet the Scot in the semis.
A spokesman at one online ticket agency summed up the expectations by saying: ”With the shock exit of Murray’s rival Nadal, demand has gone through the roof for the men’s final.
“Tickets are currently being listed at around 10,000 pounds ($15,400), which is a record at this early point of the tournament. What this shows is that Nadal’s defeat has boosted confidence that Murray could finally go all the way this year.”
Murray tried to block out all the hoopla.
“This period for me is quite a stressful period. It’s also a very enjoyable one,” Murray, runner-up to Roger Federer last year, told reporters.
”I’ve always enjoyed the grasscourt season... but there is a certain stress and pressure that comes with that. You know, playing at home, it’s just something you’ve got to deal with.
“There’s always nerves at the start of a grand slam and I‘m glad to get it out of the way and hopefully I can improve as it goes on.”
If Monday’s display was anything to go by, there is not much that Murray needs to improve on.
Only once did he fluff his lines, dropping his serve in the seventh game of the first set with a double fault that resulted in a synchronised groan from the 15,000-strong crowd.
That blunder allowed Becker to win three games on the trot to draw level at 4-4 but he simply did not possess the weapons to trouble Murray for a sustained period and relinquished the opening set after firing a backhand crosscourt wide following a lengthy rally.
With the sun playing peek-a-boo over a chilly Centre Court, Murray’s progress was followed by an array of VIP guests in the Royal Box huddled under dozens of distinctive purple and green blankets.
Murray made sure he did not keep them hanging around for too long as he finished off his opponent in straight sets in under two hours to set up a meeting with Taiwan’s Lu Yen-hsun.
As Murray celebrated becoming the most successful British man in grand slam history by chalking up his 107th win, surpassing the record he shared with Perry, it was another familiar tale of woe for the rest of the home hopes in the singles.
In the men’s draw, Murray is the last British man standing just a day into the tournament after the only other local entrants, wildcards James Ward and Kyle Edmund, perished.
Anne Keothavong, Johanna Konta, Samantha Murray and Elena Baltacha completed a 100 percent failure rate among the British women in action on Monday as they all went out.
$1 = 0.6495 British pounds Reporting by Pritha Sarkar, editing by Ken Ferris