Medical staff and other “inspirational individuals” who have been invited to the Royal Box on the first day of this year’s Wimbledon were given a standing ovation before the first match on Centre Court.
Guests included Hannah Ingram-Moore, daughter of veteran fundraiser Captain Sir Tom Moore, who raised over £32 million for the NHS, as well as designers of the Oxford/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine.
Announcers paid tribute to the “important work” done by key workers before the first game on Centre Court between defending champion Novak Djokovic and 19-year-old Jack Draper from the UK.
Dame Sarah Gilbert, who co-designed the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, also attended the Royal Box, and she and her colleagues were applauded and cheered by other match-goers.
Organisers have issued hundreds of free tickets to key workers throughout the tournament to say thank you for their work during the pandemic.
The competition’s chief executive, Sally Bolton, has said there will be a “familiar feel” at the championship following a “level of uncertainty” caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Bolton said she was feeling “excitement” that the famous tennis tournament was 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 had been no different to any other year.
June 28 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, although these can be removed while watching the matches.
Speaking at a virtual press conference ahead of the first matches, 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.”