Former Wimbledon champions line up on Centre Court to celebrate centenary

·3 min read
<span>Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian</span>
Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

Wimbledon spectators were treated to appearances by some of the tournament’s legends including Billie Jean King, Roger Federer and Venus Williams on Sunday as Centre Court celebrated its 100th anniversary.

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.

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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.

King, who won 20 Wimbledon titles, wore a bright pink blazer and blew kisses to the crowd. She told Barker: “As a 17-year-old I played my first match ever here at Wimbledon. I had two days on this court. It was magical and wonderful and I knew I belonged here.”

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.

The Swiss great, who has faced a lengthy absence from the game through injury, said he felt “awkward” to return to the court without playing and he had missed Wimbledon this year.

“I hope I can come back one more time,” he told the audience. “The knee has been rough on me but I’ve been happy at home, it’s been a good year.”

McEnroe, winner of eight Wimbledon titles as well 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 on Sunday, Djokovic, the reigning men’s champion and favourite to win again this year, described his first Wimbledon title as a dream come true.

He said it was an “absolute honour and privilege” to be sharing the court with legends of the sport and he was more nervous at the ceremony than when he was when playing.

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.

Thousands of free tickets were given to Ukrainian, Syrian and Afghan refugees, as well as to community groups and schools to attend the centenary event.

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.

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