By Michael Roddy
LONDON (Reuters) - The rare combination of sunny skies and a British defending champion has made tickets for this year's Wimbledon tennis tournament even more in demand than usual.
Stuart Bere, a gardener from Lincolnshire, England was first in "The Queue" for tickets on Monday, ensuring he would get to see last year's men's singles champion and local favorite, Andy Murray, play on the tournament's opening day.
"The Queue", a tradition dating back to the 1920s, allows people who haven't been able to buy tickets through a lottery-like ballot, or as part of the Wimbledon debenture scheme, to line up at the All England Club in south London for a ticket.
"I'm here to see Andy Murray and watch some great tennis," said Bere, 39, who had been waiting since 7:30 a.m. on Saturday when "The Queue" officially opened.
By just after 8 a.m. on Sunday, it was full, said Henry O'Grady of the Wimbledon press department.
"We know that when Murray's playing when the weather's good it fills up pretty quickly. Also, he's the champion and there are quite a lot of people saying in 'The Queue' they have to come down and support him," O'Grady said.
Some 500 people were lucky enough to get one-day tickets for Center Court on Monday, where Murray - the first Briton to return as defending men's champion since Fred Perry in 1936 - successfully began his title defense by winning in straight sets against Belgian David Goffin.
"He (Murray) did what was expected," said Eric Gross of Exeter, who attended the match with his wife.
Also in the stands were others from "The Queue", including Linda Loader, a lab technician from Hampshire, England, who was right behind Bere.
"I just love live sport, no matter what, it's amazing," she said.
"The anticipation, the atmosphere, the way you can take part in it, the way you can affect those people to some degree as well, and that's what's good about coming here to Wimbledon."
Ildiko Kezer, 32, a teacher from Budapest, Hungary, was set to miss out on Monday. At number 600 in "The Queue" she would not get into the grounds until Tuesday, but that was fine by her as Roger Federer is playing then.
"I don't want to get in on Monday, my queue number is 600, but for sure I'm going to be in on Tuesday which is the goal because Federer's playing on Tuesday," Kezer said.
"So I'm really pleased. Murray's fans, they go in today and they don't want to come the next day."
And why Federer? "Have you seen him play? Then you should know," Kezer shot back.
Emeric Evain, a journalist from the west of France who has come with four friends this year, said queuing for a ticket was much easier than when he first visited Wimbledon in 1997.
"The Queue" was out on the pavement beside the street then, instead of in a car park with portable toilets and a camping area as it is now. And it had rained steadily.
"We saw just a half an hour of tennis because it was raining all the time and there was no roof then," he said, referring to the retractable roof on Centre Court that has since been installed to keep the action going when England's inclement weather strikes.
Despite the rain, Evain has been back since and says the British tournament is much more accessible to real tennis fans than Roland Garros, the tennis championship in his native France.
"You don't have 'The Queue' at Roland Garros," he said.
"If you are a fan and have time to spend you should have tickets, but in France it's more difficult to get tickets - they should do that in Paris, too, have tickets for the real fans."
"It doesn't matter which players we see," he added. "We just want to see tennis."
(Editing by Susan Fenton and Pravin Char)