Ashraf Ali Siddiqui looks at a vintage event
100 years of Wimbledon is considered the crown tournament of the tennis Grand Slam held every year in three continents. The Championships moved to its present site on Church Road in 1922, the same year Centre Court was opened. Built in just nine months, it is now the sixth-largest tennis-specific stadium in the world with a capacity of 14,979. Centre Court has been the main stage at the championships since 1922, when the tournament relocated from SW19’s Worple Road to Church Road. The court was bombed in October 1940, during the Second World War and Wimbledon was unable to repair the damaged section until 1947. In 1979 it was expanded to host a larger capacity and in 2009 it gained a retractable roof. This year’s tournament is the first to operate normally since 2019, after coronavirus restrictions led to it being cancelled in 2020 and to capacity being halved last year.
Wimbledon’s celebration of the centenary included looking back at some of the iconic moments from the past, with former champions and big names gracing the occasion this year. A new tradition of playing on the middle Sunday of the tournament was introduced only this year. The Wimbledon site is set for expansion over the coming years after the All England Club’s purchase of the adjacent Wimbledon Park Golf Club, where a new show court will be located. Notably, school children have been asked to imagine what Centre Court would look like in 100 years’ time. More than 14,000 people have been invited to Wimbledon from the local community on Sunday and there will be around 1,000 refugees from Ukraine and 500 from Afghanistan and Syria. The musician Freya Ridings performed Lost Without You on a white piano as the grand slam winners looked across the grass and some spectators wept.
Wimbledon spectators were treated to appearances by some of the tournament’s legends including Billie Jean King, Roger Federer and Venus Williams. The ceremony featured 26 previous champions as well as a singalong led by Cliff Richard, recreating when he memorably entertained the Centre Court crowd in similar fashion during a lengthy rain delay in 1996. Giants from the past such as Rod Laver, Chris Evert and Björn Borg rubbed shoulders with present-day competitors including Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray who ended a 77-year wait for a British men’s champion at Wimbledon.
The veteran broadcasters Sue Barker and John McEnroe introduced the players as they entered in order of how many championships they have won. Billie Jean King, who won 20 Wimbledon titles, wore a bright pink blazer and blew kisses to the crowd. King paid tribute to her friend Martina Navratilova, a nine-time Wimbledon singles winner, who was unable to attend due to coronavirus. Fans stood and cheered when Federer, the winner of a record eight Wimbledon men’s singles titles, strode on to the court wearing a suit and tie with white trainers. McEnroe, winner of eight Wimbledon titles as well as a losing finalist in one of the greatest matches ever to grace Centre Court – his five-set epic against Björn Borg in the 1980 final – warmly hugged his former rival. Taking part in the ceremony before his match later, Djokovic, the reigning men’s champion and favourite to win again this year, described his first Wimbledon title as a dream come true.
Martina Hingis, Marion Bartoli, Angelique Kerber, Simona Halep, Stefan Edberg, Petra Kvitova, Chris Evert, Rod Laver and Bjorn Borg were lauded by the crowd. Martina Navratilova was a last-minute removal from today’s Centre Court presentation after testing positive for Covid. The retired tennis legend was due to attend the royal box today after taking part in celebrations to mark 100 years of Wimbledon’s main show-court but was forced out at the last minute. The 167-time singles title winner has been working with the BBC team alongside Sue Barker raising concerns over whether the virus could spread among the pundits. TW