Thousands of tennis fans have started pouring through the doors of Wimbledon as it returns to full capacity for the first time in three years.
The Met Office warned the 42,000 expected supporters to prepare for rain showers on SW19 in the early afternoon – just when the first games on center court are due to start.
The world’s oldest tennis tournament was canceled in 2020, for the first time since World War II, amid coronavirus restrictions, and audience capacity was reduced by 50% in 2021.
A host of hopeful tennis fans also joined the famous queue for premium matchday tickets, including Roger Federer superfan Danilo Criscuolo, who flew in from Naples in Italy the week last to be first in line for Tuesday tickets.
The 30-year-old, a car hire administrator who has been camping in south-west London for three nights, told the PA news agency: ‘It was a very long journey as we were two hours late from departure , and there was still a two hour delay for baggage.
“But when I first saw the grass at Wimbledon Park, I lost all my bad vibes – only good vibes.”
Showing off a tattoo of Federer on his calf, he joked: “I have a portrait here of Roger Federer but I don’t have a portrait of my wife – he is more important than my wife.”
Mr Criscuolo said he was supporting Italian men’s world number 11 Matteo Berrettini this year.
Veteran Wimbledon and retired GP fan Maggie Wright says she has been joining the queue for premium tickets on the day for 60 years.
The 71-year-old, from Lowestoft, Suffolk, who was camping with her daughter, Henrietta Braithwaite, 30, told PA: ‘We used to queue for center court for five shillings, I think it’s was the case.
“At first you didn’t have to line up overnight, then it was on the sidewalk, and I think we were really die-hard fans because there were cars all night flashing us their headlights – terrible.
“It’s very quiet this year, but it’s still great because you meet people from all over the world and you never know who you’re going to be with.
“Everyone is really friendly and helpful. It’s a big part of the experience.
“The worst part of queuing is finding a place to shower, and the best part is everything else.”
Colm O’Donnell, from Ashford in Kent, said he had befriended people from China, Australia and the United States after meeting them in the Wimbledon queue .
The 35-year-old food bank worker, who has been camping outside the south-west London site to secure his place in the queue since Saturday, told PA: ‘This is my fifth year in the queue.
“I’m making an effort because I’ve made so many friends in the queue and that’s what’s so good about the queue.
“I made a friend in the queue who I’ve had Zoom calls with for the last year and a half during Covid and the lockdown, and they invited me to their home in Australia.
“And that’s the magic of what the queue does, to meet people from all over the world.
“That’s why Federer fans and tennis fans come to meet in this spectacular location at Wimbledon.”
Mr O’Donnell said as a Federer fan he wanted to see ‘anyone but Djokovic’ win this year, especially after refusing to get a coronavirus shot ahead of the Australian Open .
The morning play-offs will see men’s favorite Cameron Norrie take on veteran Spanish Pablo Andujar, while Britain’s number three Heather Watson takes on Germany’s Tamara Korpatsch.
Meteorologists have forecast drizzle from around 1-4pm, which means the retractable roof may need to be activated for the first matches on center court from 1.30pm.
Fan favorite Andy Murray will be among the first on the pitch, facing Australian James Duckworth.
The Scot is unclassified and suffers from an abdominal injury.
First-seeded Novak Djokovic, who is aiming for a fourth straight Wimbledon title and seventh overall, will also take to the court in the afternoon.
Meanwhile, reigning US Open champion Emma Raducanu will make her Center Court debut against Belgium’s Alison Van Uytvanck.
The British teenager has been in a race against time to get fit after suffering side strain earlier this month.
This year, Wimbledon ruled out Russian and Belarus players in response to the Ukraine invasion, knocking out men’s world number one Daniil Medvedev and women’s number five Aryna Sabalenka.
The decision had serious repercussions, as the ATP and WTA decided to remove the ranking points from the tournament.
According to Sunday night odds from bookmaker Bet365, Djokovic is 4/5 to win the men’s singles competition, followed by Italian Matteo Berrettini at 5/1 and Spaniard Rafael Nadal at 7/1.
In women’s singles, 21-year-old Polish player Iga Swiatek is placed at 6/4 to win, with Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur at 8/1 and American teenager Coco Gauff at 12/1.
The All England Club tournament in south-west London runs from June 27 to July 10 this year.
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