Wimbledon’s Centre Court has erupted with singing, crying and rapturous applause as tennis fans saw grand slam greats from across the decades stand shoulder-to-shoulder on the hallowed grass.
Twenty-six previous champions including Sir Andy Murray, Venus Williams, Rafael Nadal and Billie Jean King waved to ecstatic spectators in a short ceremony marking 100 years of action on the main court.
Veteran tennis broadcasters Sue Barker and John McEnroe introduced the players as they entered in order of how many Championships they have won.
Each was greeted with applause and fans got to their feet and cheered when the record eight-time Wimbledon winner, Roger Federer, strode on to the court wearing a suit and tie with white trainers.
The crowd also sang along with a live rendition of Summer Holiday by Sir Cliff Richard, who was a guest in the royal box for middle Sunday.
American former number one King wore a bright pink blazer and blew kisses to the crowd.
During an on-court interview with the BBC’s Barker, she said: “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.”
She paid tribute to nine-time Wimbledon winner and her friend, Martina Navratilova, who was wiped out of the line-up by coronavirus.
Navratilova had been due to attend with Harry Potter author JK Rowling, who also had to cancel her royal box slot on Sunday morning.
Novak Djokovic, the favourite to win the men’s singles this year, said it was an “absolute honour and privilege” to be sharing the court with “the legends of our sport” and revealed he was more nervous than when he had been playing.
The Serbian 20-time grand slam winner said: “Definitely this court has been truly special for my childhood and I always dreamed of being here and hopefully winning as well.
“The dreams came true and I was blessed back in 2011 – probably the highlight of my career and the most beautiful moment.”
Swiss great Federer gave a characteristically humble speech, saying 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,” the 20-time grand slam winner, who is out with a knee injury, told the audience.
“The knee has been rough on me but I’ve been happy at home, it’s been a good year.”
British singer Freya Ridings performed Lost Without You on a white piano as the grand-slam winners looked across the grass and some spectators wept.
Team GB’s Heather Watson was the first player on Centre Court but lost to Germany’s Jule Niemeier – and later Djokovic will return to the grass against Tim van Rijthoven from the Netherlands.
Thousands of free tickets have been given to Ukrainian, Syrian and Afghan refugees, as well as to community groups and schools.
Centre Court has been the main stage at the Championships since 1922, when the tournament relocated from SW19’s Worple Road to Church Road.
From Althea Gibson being the first black player to win Wimbledon in 1957, to the now-jailed former grand slam great Boris Becker winning the year the Berlin Wall came down, it has hosted many memorable moments in history.
The court was also 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.
Over the last two years, the tournament has been compromised by coronavirus, as 2020 saw it cancelled, while it had a 50% capacity limit in 2021.