Andy Murray arrived on Centre Court to a standing ovation and left to another.
After ending Britain’s 77-year wait for a homegrown men’s champion at Wimbledon last year, Murray got off to a strong start Monday in his bid to become the first to retain the title since Fred Perry in 1936.
In keeping with tradition, Murray had the honor of playing the opening match on Centre Court as the defending men’s champion – and looked right at home in beating David Goffin 6-1, 6-4, 7-5.
Murray broke the 105th-ranked Belgian four times, saved the only two break points against him and sealed the contest with an ace, his eighth of the match. It was Murray’s 450th tour-level match win.
Top-seeded Novak Djokovic, who lost to Murray in last year’s final, also put on a commanding performance in his opening round match on Centre Court. The Serbian player won the first 11 games and swept to a 6-0, 6-1, 6-4 win over Andrey Golubev of Kazakhstan in less than 90 minutes.
Murray received a huge ovation when he strode onto the court where he beat Djokovic a year ago, soaking in the applause and giving a wave to the crowd – including those fans who queued up for tickets overnight for the rare chance to see a reigning British champion.
“It was nice,” Murray said. “I was nervous this morning, nervous yesterday. Walking through brings back a lot of good memories. I got a nice round of applause and once you sit down in a chair it’s time to get ready for this year and move on from last year.”
Among those in the Royal Box for the occasion were Murray’s father and grandparents and retired NBA star Shaquille O’Neal, dressed in suit and tie. Murray chatted briefly with the 7-foot-1 (2.16-meter) Shaq after the match.
“He’s a big boy, that’s for sure,” Murray said. “He was huge.”
Murray’s new coach, former women’s champion Amelie Mauresmo, sat in the front row of the guest box, showing little emotion throughout the match. Murray said the two spoke over dinner last week about the pressures of returning to Centre Court as reigning champ.
“One of the things she said is she tried to take in the atmosphere and the experience of walking out as defending champion,” Murray said. “You never know if you’ll get the chance to do it again.”
Murray was on top of his game from the outset, sailing through the first set in 29 minutes, and closing out the second with an ace. Goffin, who stands 5-foot-11 (1.80 meters) with a slight build, was overpowered for the first two sets but raised his level in the third and pushed Murray hard.
“In the second and third sets I thought the standard was very high,” Murray said. “He came up with some unbelievable passing shots. I was glad to finish it in three.”
The pressure will now be on Murray’s next opponent, Blaz Rola of Slovenia, who advanced with a 6-3, 6-1, 6-4 win against Pablo Andujar of Spain. Asked about facing the champion on Wednesday on Centre Court, Rola said: “Hopefully, I don’t poop my pants and don’t play well.”
Djokovic, meanwhile, never faced a break point in his dominant victory against the 56th-ranked Golubev, who fell to his 10th consecutive loss on grass. The score was 6-0, 5-0 before Golubev finally won a game. It was Djokovic’s first grass-court match of the year.
“It was a great start, especially in the first two sets,” Djokovic said. “I cannot be happier with the performance.”
Among other men’s winners on a cloudy opening day was sixth-seeded and 2010 runner-up Tomas Berdych, who beat Victor Hanescu 6-7 (5), 6-1, 6-4, 6-3. No. 7 David Ferrer, No. 11 Grigor Dimitrov, No. 12 Ernests Gulbis and No. 17 Mikhail Youzhny also advanced.
But 18th-seeded Fernando Verdasco fell to Australia’s Marinko Matosevic, losing 6-4, 4-6, 6-4, 6-2.
In women’s play, second-seeded Li Na of China advanced with a 7-5, 6-2 win over Paula Kania of Poland. Li, the 2011 French Open champion, rallied to win the last four games of the first set after being down a service break at 5-3.
Five-time champion Venus Williams won her first singles match at Wimbledon since 2011, posting a 6-4, 4-6, 6-2 victory over Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor of Spain. Williams lost in the first round in 2012 and missed last year’s tournament because of a back injury.
“I’ve come back so many times from injuries,” said Williams, who served 11 aces. “I just feel like the more I keep playing, the better I get.”