Andy Murray, Venus Williams excel at Wimbledon

Andy Murray of Britain runs to make a

Andy Murray of Britain runs to make a return to David Goffin of Belgium during their first round match at the All England Lawn Tennis Championships in Wimbledon, London, Monday, June 23, 2014. (Credit: AP / Pavel Golovkin)

LONDON -- 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.

Murray received a huge ovation when he strode onto the court where he beat Novak Djokovic in last year's final, 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 but showed 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."

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. 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."

Former top-ranked Victoria Azarenka won her first match in five months, defeating 1999 Wimbledon semifinalist Mirjana Lucic-Baroni 6-3, 7-5. The eighth-seeded Azarenka, a two-time semifinalist at the All England Club, made her return at Eastbourne last week following the long layoff with a left foot injury, losing in the first round.

Former U.S. Open champion Sam Stosur, the 17th-seeded Australian, slumped to a 6-3, 6-4 defeat to Belgium's Yanina Wickmayer.

Sloane Stephens, the 18th-seeded American, had her streak of reaching the second week at six consecutive Grand Slam tournaments ended with a 6-2, 7-6 (6) loss to 109th-ranked Maria Kirilenko of Russia.

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