It was a time to celebrate 100 years of Wimbledon’s Center Court with the game’s greatest champions – but the most riveting ovation was reserved for a tearful Sue Barker, the outgoing face of BBC tennis coverage†
Barker, who has hosted Wimbledon since 1992, hosted Sunday’s centenary alongside three-time champion John McEnroe when he went off-script to end the celebration by paying tribute to his 66-year-old friend.
“One last word to the public and on behalf of all players, I just want to say that we will be lost without you,” McEnroe told Barker. “After 30 years of beautifully beating this tournament, please give it up for Sue Barker,” he added, as the crowd rose to a prolonged standing ovation. The answer brought Barker to tears. “Thank you so much…that really means the world to me,” she said.
Barker then added that McEnroe would be demoted to Court 17 commentary after he deviated from the script of the ceremony. Barker, former champion of the French Open and number three in the world, announced in June that: this year would be her last Wimbledonand it has so far been plagued by a bout of laryngitis and the potential threat of Covid among the tournament’s broadcasters.
Martina Navratilova, the nine-time Wimbledon champion, was conspicuously absent from the centenary celebrations after testing positive for Covid-19 in the morning. Navratilova sat next to Barker the night before during the BBC’s analysis of the match between Stefanos Tsitsipas and Nick Kyrgios.
A BBC spokesperson told The Telegraph they have “robust Covid procedures” and that their Wimbledon coverage is going “as planned”.
Navratilova was set to attend SW19 on Sunday as a Royal Box guest, alongside an extraordinary roll call from tennis legends including Roger Federer, Billie Jean King, Rod Laver, Rafael Nadal, Bjorn Borg, Chris Evert, Andy Murray, Venus Williams, Novak Djokovic and Margaret Court.
The inclusion of Court, who is the all-time Grand Slam record holder with 24 titles, follows calls in Australia to rename Melbourne’s famed “Margaret Court Arena” for her strong stance on LGBTQ issues and same-sex marriage. Court was respectfully applauded by the Center Court crowd on Sunday.
Navratilova said she was “disappointed” to miss the special occasion she was due to attend with boyfriend JK Rowling.
Federer received the loudest ovation of all former champions and told fans he still plans to return as a player after missing this year’s tournament with a knee injury.
“I hope I can come back one more time,” said Federer, who only reached the final in 2019 but will turn 41 next month.
The centenary celebrations also included a surprise performance by Sir Cliff Richard, who serenaded the audience with a rendition of Summer Holiday, and received mixed reactions from onlookers and those watching at home.
The song was a nod to a momentous moment in Wimbledon history, when Richard spontaneously sang the tune from the stands of Center Court during a lengthy rain delay in 1996.
An awkward exchange between McEnroe and Barker followed the performance, in which he teased the broadcaster about her past relationship with the singer.
“Sue, weren’t you dating that guy?” asked McEnroe, to which she replied, “We’re moving on, thanks John.”
As part of the celebration the All England Club had given: Ukrainian refugees housed in the Wandsworth municipality the opportunity to attend the tournament for free, including vouchers for their famous strawberries and cream. Inna Ohrimchuk, 28, said she wanted to take her mind off “everything going on at home”.
Inna Ohrimchuk, 28, said she wanted to take her mind off “everything going on at home” but couldn’t resist “scrolling” her news feed while playing tennis.
“It’s like watching the tournament, but watching the news at the same time… you try to live a normal life… but at the same time it’s very different at home and that thought stays with you,” she said. †
Elena Fylymonova, 35, told The Telegraph: “I watch every day, even on the Wimbledon courts – I watch tennis and check Telegram. It’s 24/7.
“I’m excited to be here, but at the same time everyone is happy and smiling and it’s sometimes a big contrast to what’s happening at home,” she added.