There will be a “familiar feel” to this year’s Wimbledon, following a “level of uncertainty” caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the tournament’s chief executive has said.
Sally Boulton said she is feeling “excitement” that the famous tennis competition is starting, adding that “we can talk about tennis and not talk about Covid”.
Speaking as the SW19 gates opened to fans for the first time in two years, she said the degree of “trepidation” felt while organising Wimbledon has been no different to any other year.
Monday sees tennis fans return to the internationally renowned courts with multiple changes to ensure that the event remains Covid-secure.
Fans will have to present evidence of either double-jab status or negative lateral flow tests upon arrival at the grounds.
Multiple hand sanitiser stations have been installed and guests are being asked to wear face coverings when walking around, though these can be removed while watching the matches.
Fans were pictured huddled under umbrellas as they queued for entry in the drizzle, and some wore Union flag facemasks.
Hundreds of free tickets for the championship have been distributed to key workers and other “inspirational individuals” by the AELTC for their services during the pandemic.
Inside the grounds a message reading “thank you” was marked on the grass.
Guests to the Royal Box on Monday include Hannah Ingram-Moore, daughter of veteran fundraiser Captain Sir Tom Moore, who raised over £32 million for the NHS.
Speaking at a virtual press conference ahead of the first matches, Ms Bolton said extra effort had been made to deliver a “familiar feel” to the championship.
“When people arrive through the gates this morning as they are doing now, what they will see and feel is something very familiar, a championship that we’ve all missed for two years,” she said.
“That’s been a really important part of what we’ve done as we’ve gone about thinking about how we do that in a safe way.
“Obviously it’s necessarily different in certain ways this year.
“The challenge above all has been the level of uncertainty that we have had throughout this year.
“But at this point the thing I’m feeling most is excitement that we’re finally here and we can finally open the gates, get some players on court, get some tennis played, so we can talk about tennis and not talk about Covid.
“That feeling is no different to any year delivering the championships, there is always a myriad of things that you have planned hard for and want and hope to go perfectly, but may not.
“This year there’s an added layer … but every year there is a degree of trepidation going into the tournament, there’s no doubt about that.”
Wet weather threatened to put a dampener on the tournament’s opening day, with the Met Office putting a yellow weather warning for rain and thunderstorms in place across parts of southern England.
But investment in roofs over Centre Court and Court 1 in recent years means the unpredictable weather is less likely to affect the schedule.
The Met Office added that clearer, warmer weather was expected to arrive later in the week.
Ms Bolton added that the investment, which occurred before the start of the pandemic, stood organisers “in good stead” and that both courts were considered to be outdoor venues, even when the roofs were closed.
“When we put the roof on there was significant focus on how we maintained the grass surface when you have lots of people in a stadium with the roof closed,” she said.
“So we did invest in outstanding ventilation which stood us in good stead this year.
“Both of those courts with the roof on are still considered to be outdoor venues, so there is no issue.”