What some call pressure, Andy Murray calls an advantage By Howard Fendrich LONDON — Andy Murray can't quite fathom why people think that having a country 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, Andy, 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 honour usually reserved for the reigning men's champion, but 2008 winner Rafael Nadal withdrew Friday, citing bad knees). But 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 quarter-finals, 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." The expectations and pressure on the 22-year-old from Scotland started to bubble up two years ago, when he began to flash the skills that made him the logical heir to four-time Wimbledon semifinalist Tim Henman as the Great British Hope. They only have grown as Murray has made his way up the rankings, reached his first Grand Slam final at last year's U.S. Open and performed well at this year's French Open, making the quarter-finals. He is one of the few players with a winning record against Federer: Murray leads their head-to-head series 6-2, including four victories in a row. Asked Saturday if there's something about Murray's game that irritates him, Federer said with a smile: "Just that he's very good." Prodded to elaborate, Federer said: "He's a very gifted player. He has wonderful feel. He's a great tactician. I always said that, and he's finally proved it, because it took him some time. That was the disappointing part, I thought - that it took him longer than I expected. So I was wrong with my prediction, because I expected him to do better a few years ago. But everything is coming together for him now."Murray is 40-6 this season, with four titles, including last week on grass at Queen's Club, the first British man to win that tournament since Bunny Austin in 1938. That, by the way, was two years after the last time a British man won Wimbledon: Fred Perry in 1936. Think that added to the anticipation for the coming two weeks? One tiny indication: A sign in front of a church in Wimbledon village, about a 20-minute walk from the All England Club, reads, "Andy Murray, King of Queens. Jesus Christ, King of Kings." Murray maintains he isn't bothered one whit by what others think or hope. "You can either deal with that stuff or you can't. I don't get caught up in the whole hype thing, getting involved in reading all the papers, listening to what everyone else is saying. Because at the end of the day, it makes no difference if some guy thinks I can win the tournament or whatever," he said. "I think I can deal with it, yeah." He definitely does not try to distance himself from Perry: Murray has a deal with an apparel company named for the late British star and his outfit for this year's tournament is being made in honour of what would have been Perry's 100th birthday. Murray, who showed up Saturday in a white cable-knit sweater that's part of that clothing line, was a tad understated when asked how a Wimbledon title might be received around these parts. "I'm sure it would be huge, huge news for quite a few weeks and stuff," he said, fiddling with the microphone in the All England Club's main interview room. "You never know until those things happen. It's been such a long time, and people have been waiting for it for, well, forever now." Copyright © 2009 The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.