Center Court at Wimbledon is hosting musical celebrations for the first time before a full day of tennis on Middle Sunday to celebrate its centenary.
Veteran tennis broadcasters Sue Barker, John McEnroe and Clare Balding will talk about 100 years of on-court history from 1.30pm, before British singer Freya Ridings performs in front of thousands of spectators.
The British team’s Heather Watson will be first in the stadium, playing against Germany’s Jule Niemeier – and later world number one Novak Djokovic will face Tim van Rijthoven from the Netherlands.
They will be watched by spectators in the royal box, including Sir Cliff Richard and Brian Cox.
The club was due to house Harry Potter author JK Rowling, but pulled out at the last minute on Sunday morning after her partner, former tennis player Martina Navratilova, had contracted Covid, according to the All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC).
A spokesperson said: “JK Rowling was going to be Martina Navratilova’s guest today, and unfortunately Martina’s agent has confirmed that Martina has Covid and is now unable to attend the Royal Box.”
Thousands of free tickets were also donated to Ukrainian, Syrian and Afghan refugees, as well as community groups and schools.
Center Court has been the main stage for the Championships since 1922, when the tournament moved from Worple Road in SW19 to Church Road.
From Althea Gibson being the first black player to win Wimbledon in 1957, to the now imprisoned former grand slam winner Boris Becker winning the year the Berlin Wall fell, he has hosted many memorable moments in history.
The court was also bombed in October 1940, during World War II, and Wimbledon was unable to repair the damaged section until 1947.
In 1979 it was extended to accommodate greater capacity, and in 2009 it gained a retractable roof.
For the past two years the tournament has been compromised by the coronavirus, as 2020 saw it cancelled, despite having a 50% capacity limit in 2021.
As it returns to its peak in 2022, spectators say the public’s affection for the ground hasn’t waned in 100 years.
Alison Montague, 77, and her daughter Katherine, 50, both from Kings Bromley in Staffordshire, have appeared in dozens of Wimbledon tournaments.
Alison, a retired school secretary, said her first visit was in 1950, when players used wooden rackets.
She told the PA news agency: “It’s very different now.
“Players used to walk around and you could get an autograph, but now you can’t get near it.”
She added that the atmosphere was “great” back then and still is today.
Katherine added: “My favorite moment on center court was when Roger Federer beat Andy Roddick in the thriller in five sets, and they cheered Roddick off the court – he got a standing ovation.
“He actually got more points than Federer, but the crucial points Federer won.
“It was very exciting. Roddick has never won Wimbledon.
SW19 veterans Maryjane, 75, and Annie, 69, both from Henley-on-Thames in Oxfordshire, sat on center court for Sir Andy Murray’s victory in 2013.
Maryjane told PA: “The Murray game, when they first closed the roof, it was so exciting.
“Also, I was in the final with Djokovic, Nadal and Federer, and they were absolutely amazing.
“They went on late into the night, and you couldn’t go. Could. Not. Go.
“I was also in the 77th final when Virginia Wade won and the queen was there.”
When asked what makes Center Court special, Annie added: “It just is.
“It’s iconic, and as things change, it hasn’t changed too much. The roof hasn’t ruined it.
It’s become one of the most iconic landmarks in all of sport, and what we’ve really tried to focus on is looking ahead and what the future of this stadium might be.
John Barrington, 73, a tennis coach for an amateur club in Somerset, said he first took to center court when it was empty after playing as a junior at Wimbledon Park in the age of nine.
He said: “I remember being taken to Center Court by my mum around 60 years ago.
“It was very impressive then and it still is today.”
Marie Selby, 63, a wedding dress designer from Kew, west London, said she had been sidelined “several times”, including when the Williams sisters first faced off in 2000.
Ms Selby, who was enjoying the Championships this year with her daughter, Phoebe, told PA: “You always feel very close to the players wherever you sit on center court.
“Even though it has grown as a court, you still feel very intimate.
“It’s just a really nice arena.”
Phoebe, a 25-year-old art gallery assistant, said her favorite moment was watching Gerard Butler and Bradley Cooper kiss in the royal box after Sir Andy’s victory.
The AELTC plans to expand Wimbledon into a nearby park over the next eight years, adding several more courts, including an 8,000-seat show ground.
AELTC’s Alex Willis told reporters: “It’s become one of the most iconic landmarks in all of sport, and what we’ve really tried to focus on is looking up. future and what the future of this stadium could be.
“What I hope is that the purity of the experience remains.”
Ms Willis said she envisioned a ‘Downton Abbey’ style development, with planners taking inspiration from ‘classic Tudor country houses’ – but said even 100 years from now the courts will still be all grass.