LONDON: 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 as the gates swung open at 0900GMT on a breezy morning in south west London.
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.
Also missing is men’s world number one Daniil Medvedev after organisers banned Russian and Belarusian players in response to the invasion of Ukraine while women’s defending champion Ash Barty has retired.
The ban on Russians and Belarusians prompted the ATP and WTA to take away ranking points from Wimbledon this year.
Play is also scheduled for 14 days, rather than the traditional 13, with middle Sunday no longer a rest day, meaning the end of so-called Manic Monday when all the men’s and women’s fourth-round matches used to be played.
While the build-up to Wimbledon has been mired in controversy, 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.
Briton Emma Raducanu’s appearance is being billed as a “homecoming” after her extraordinary U.S. Open title win as a qualifier and the spotlight will be fully focused on the teenager when she faces Belgian Alison Van Uytvanck after Djokovic’s match against Kwon Soon-woo.
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.
Murray is one of 17 British players in the singles draws – the largest home contingent since 2001.
While the stage is set for a feast of tennis over the next two weeks, a rain shower half an hour after play started put a dampener on the early action.
Some things, it seems, never change.