Fans flock back to Wimbledon for 'pilot event'

Murky skies and drizzle could not dampen the enthusiasm of spectators arriving on Monday (June 28) for the start of the 134th Wimbledon Championships which were cancelled last year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

COVID-19 protocols mean this year's tournament will look and feel a little different -- but one old Wimbledon tradition remained firmly intact with rain delaying the scheduled 1000GMT start on the outside courts.

Fittingly for the eagerly-awaited return of the tournament, Andy Murray will resume his role as flag-bearer for the home nation with a prime time engagement later on Centre Court.

Whisper it quietly, but it almost feels like old times.

Not quite, though, as Wimbledon, being used as government-approved "pilot event", will be missing some old favourites.

The iconic "queue" for daily entry will not form, Henman Hill will be sparsely populated and fans will not have the thrill of bumping into famous players strolling to the grounds from plush rentals in the Village.

Players will all be staying in a central London hotel to minimise the risks of COVID-19 infections.

Crowds will be thinner too with attendances limited to 50% of ground capacity, although hopefully rising to full houses on Centre Court for the men's and women's finals on July 10-11.

But after last year's cancellation, the first since the Second World War, excitement is brewing for a fortnight of grasscourt drama, even if there are notable absentees.

Spaniard Rafa Nadal, whose 2008 final win over Roger Federer is part of Wimbledon folklore, is not playing. Neither is reigning women's champion Simona Halep nor Japan's four-times Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka.