London: Wimbledon marks the 100th anniversary of its famed Centre Court at this year’s tournament, which got under way at the All England Club on Monday.
Australia’s Gerald Patterson and France’s Suzanne Lenglen were the first champions to lift the trophies on the world’s most famous lawn in 1922.
And this year, the world’s most famous queue began streaming into the All England Club on Monday as the gates opened at the start of the 135th edition of the Wimbledon championships. The quintessential English sight of thousands of tennis fans waiting patiently, often having camped overnight, to gain entry to the grounds has been missing since 2019.
Covid-19 put paid to Wimbledon in 2020 and last year the queue was scrapped on safety grounds as the tournament returned to semi-normality, albeit with restricted attendances and players based in secure hotel bubbles.
Although all that makes Wimbledon such a spectacle has returned, it is not quite business as usual despite the buzz around the grounds.
For a start, Roger Federer, the king of the lawns with a record eight men’s singles titles, is absent for the first time since winning the junior event in 1998.
The 40-year-old Swiss is recovering from a knee injury and has not played since losing to Poland’s Hubert Hurkacz in the quarter-finals a year ago.
However, there are enough plot lines to suggest the next fortnight could be a classic edition. Serena Williams returns after a year out, gunning for the 24th Grand Slam singles title that has eluded her since 2017.
Serbia’s Novak Djokovic was due to open play on Centre Court on Monday as he seeks to defend his title, win a 21st Grand Slam crown and close the gap on Rafa Nadal, who has a record 22. Spaniard Nadal is halfway to a calendar-year Grand Slam after winning the Australian and French Opens.
With the famous Centre Court celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, the opening day has a very British flavour with twice former champion Andy Murray concluding the action against Australian James Duckworth.
Here is a look at 10 memorable Centre Court moments:
2019: Longest final
After four hours and 55 minutes, Novak Djokovic captured his fifth Wimbledon title with a 7-6 (7/5), 1-6, 7-6 (7/4), 4-6, 13-12 (7/3) victory over eight-time champion Roger Federer. The great Swiss had two championship points at 8-7 in the fifth set that lasted two hours and two minutes. “It’s quite unreal,” said Djokovic while Federer admitted: “Man, that was crazy.”
2013: Murray ends Britain’s agony
Andy Murray became Britain’s first Wimbledon men’s champion since Fred Perry in 1936 with a 6-4, 7-5, 6-4 win over Novak Djokovic in the final. Murray won on a fourth match point, sinking to his knees in triumph with victory coming one year after a tearful loss to Roger Federer.
2009: Roof cover-up
Centre Court showed off its new £80 million retractable roof in 2009 with Dinara Safina and Amelie Mauresmo having the honour of being the first competitors to experience playing under it as the rain fell outside. Court One also boasted a roof by 2019.
2008: Nadal v Federer, the greatest final?
In the last year before the roof was installed, Centre Court witnessed what many have described as its greatest ever final. Rafael Nadal downed Roger Federer 6-4, 6-4, 6-7 (5/7), 6-7 (8/10), 9-7 in a match which stretched over almost seven hours due to rain delays and ended in near darkness.
“To me, it was the greatest match I’d ever watched, the greatest match ever played anywhere,” said US legend John McEnroe.
2002: Serena equals Graf record
2002: Serena Williams, one of the best in women’s tennis, won her first Wimbledon title at the age of 20 in 2002. The American, who along with her sister Venus 12 Wimbledon titles in the family, equalled Steffi Graf’s Open Era record of 22 major singles titles when she won the title in 2016 at 34, defeating Angelique Kerber. Serena, who also became the oldest woman to lift the trophy, now has 23 titles and has a chance to equal the great Margaret Court in this year’s competition, returning to the WTA Tour after a year of absence.
1993: Novotna’s royal tears
Jana Novotna was tantalisingly close to the title in 1993 when she led Steffi Graf 4-1 in the final set and was a point from 5-1 when she was broken on a double fault.
The Czech went on to lose five games in a row and such was her distress that she cried into the shoulder of Britain’s Duchess of Kent.
Novotna was to lose the 1997 final to Martina Hingis before finally winning the title in 1998 with victory over Nathalie Tauziat. Novotna died in November 2017 at the age of 49
1990: Navratilova’s ninth title
Martina Navratilova won a record ninth Wimbledon with a 6-4, 6-1 win over Zina Garrison, also the last of the 18 Slam titles she achieved in her career. It took her past the previous record of eight held by Helen Wills Moody who won her titles in the 1920s and 1930s.
“The event overtakes any single person. I didn’t care if I scraped and scratched to get this. They don’t put an asterisk next to your name saying you won but didn’t play that well,” said Navratilova.
1980: Borg, McEnroe and an epic tiebreak
Borg and McEnroe’s 1980 final would make any list of great Wimbledon championship matches. Borg came out on top 1-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-7 (16/18), 8-6 in a final which lasted seven minutes short of four hours and gave the Swede a fifth straight title at the All England Club.
The fourth set defined its greatness. McEnroe saved seven match points, five of them in the tiebreaker which extended to 34 points and 20 minutes. McEnroe avenged the loss in 1981, winning the first of his three Wimbledon titles.
1957: Gibson makes history
Having won the French Open in 1956, Althea Gibson triumphed at Wimbledon in 1957, becoming the first black woman to win the title with a 6-3, 6-2 win over compatriot Darlene Hard.
“Shaking hands with the queen of England was a long way from being forced to sit in the coloured section of the bus,” said Gibson on receiving the trophy from Queen Elizabeth II. Gibson would win five Grand Slam singles titles, including a second at the All England Club in 1958.
Serena and Venus Williams continued the Gibson legacy with 12 titles between them and featuring in four all-Williams finals on Centre Court.
1940: Bombed out
On October 11, Centre Court was partially destroyed when five 500-pound bombs fell on the club. Around 1,200 seats were destroyed.