- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 21, 2009

WIMBLEDON, England | Andy Murray can’t quite fathom why people think that having a nation behind him at Wimbledon would be anything but helpful.

After all, what some consider a burden - being Britain’s best chance for its first male champion at the All England Club since the 1930s - he considers an edge.

“Anytime you can play in front of a home crowd, in any sport, you know, is a huge advantage,” the third-seeded Murray said Saturday. “A lot of people try and say that playing here at Wimbledon it’s not, but I don’t understand why - in football and in basketball, whatever, home court or playing a home match is a huge advantage. I view tennis as being the same thing: You’ve got 15,000 people behind you.”

Well, actually, it’ll be more like 60 million or so.

The locals certainly won’t ignore the start of Wimbledon on Monday, when Roger Federer faces Yen-hsun Lu of Taiwan in the first match on Centre Court (an honor usually reserved for the reigning men’s champion, but 2008 winner Rafael Nadal withdrew Friday, citing bad knees).

More are sure to pay attention Tuesday, when Murray is scheduled to play his opener at the grass-court Grand Slam tournament against Robert Kendrick of the United States.

That’s when “Murraymania” will get going in earnest.

Indeed, Nadal’s departure was viewed here through the prism of how it helps Murray: Nadal beat Murray in last year’s Wimbledon quarterfinals, and they had been drawn to face each other in this year’s semifinals.

Murray is aware of such talk, and while he generally sounds a humble tone, he is not shy about embracing his status as one of the title contenders.

“I feel like I’m better equipped to win a Grand Slam this year than I was last year. And, yeah, I think I have a chance of winning, but I understand how difficult that is to do. You know, it’s very easy to, you know, sort of say, ‘Oh, Rafa’s not playing. Andy’s got a much easier route to the final.’ I don’t view it like that at all,” Murray said. “I feel like I’ve got a chance, but I’ll have to play great to do it.”

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