Wimbledon makes a smashing return with a tribute to Boris ... but not the one you think

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Sue Barker and John McEnroe - Dave Shopland/Shutterstock
Sue Barker and John McEnroe - Dave Shopland/Shutterstock

Sue Barker sent an emotional on-air message of support to her jailed former colleague Boris Becker on the opening day of Wimbledon.

The 66-year-old, who is retiring from the BBC after this year’s championship, made the public declaration as Becker serves a two-and-a-half year jail term for hiding millions of pounds worth of assets after being declared bankrupt.

She was joined by John McEnroe who said at the end of Novak Djokovic’s first-round victory: “Boris, we love you. We miss you, man.”

Barker replied: “We do, indeed. Well said.”

Lilian de Carvalho Monteiro, Becker’s girlfriend, had been watching from among Djokovic’s close supporters during the opening match on Centre Court.

A bastion of the BBC’s Wimbledon coverage for two decades, it was perhaps fitting that Becker’s absence was acknowledged on the day the Championships roared back into full life for the first time since the pandemic struck.

Boris Becker - Jamie Lorriman for The Telegraph
Boris Becker - Jamie Lorriman for The Telegraph

Gone were Covid tests and social distancing. Back was the world-famous queue.

And the fans came in their legions on a bumper day for British competitors, with Emma Raducanu and Andy Murray the star attractions.

But it would not have been Wimbledon without some dodgy weather, and the sight of tennis fans huddling under umbrellas.

The heavens opened in the early afternoon, delaying play on the outer courts and forcing Centre Court and Court One to use their roofs for only the second time on an opening day.

Fortunately, there was no repeat of the slipping controversies of last year, which were blamed on the early use of the roof, and by the time Britain’s teenage US Open champion walked on to Centre Court, the sun was shining.

Wimbledon workers rain delay - Reuters/Hannah McKay
Wimbledon workers rain delay - Reuters/Hannah McKay
The wet weather didn’t seem so bad with rain ponchos and a little refreshment - Justin Setterfield/Getty Images
The wet weather didn’t seem so bad with rain ponchos and a little refreshment - Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

She did not disappoint, winning her first-round clash against Alison Van Uytvanck in straight sets.

So pleased with her performance was Raducanu that at the conclusion of the match, she performed a little dance.

Murray continued the British winning streak, fighting from a set down to defeat Australian James Duckworth 4-6 6-3 6-2 6-4.

There was success for Britain on the outer courts, too, with Cameron Norrie, the ninth seed, overcoming rain interruptions to win his first-round tie in straight sets against Spain’s Pablo Andujar.

Wimbledon fans - Simon Stacpoole/Offside/Offside via Getty Images
Wimbledon fans - Simon Stacpoole/Offside/Offside via Getty Images

The drama was not confined to the players. Jodie Burrage came to the aid of a ball boy overcome with faintness, winning the affection of the crowd by offering him some of her Percy Pig sweets in an effort to revive him.

Speaking as the gates opened, veteran Wimbledon fan Maggie Wright described what it meant to her to be back in the queue having joined it religiously, barring Covid, for the past 60 years.

The retired GP from Suffolk said: “We used to stand and queue for Centre Court for five shillings, I think it was.

“Initially, you didn’t have to queue overnight, and then it was on the pavement, and I think we really were the diehard fans because there would be cars all night flashing their lights at us.”

Another was Danilo Criscuolo, a Roger Federer superfan who had endured a nightmare journey from his native Naples last week to be first in line for Tuesday’s tickets.

Wimbledon fans - Steven Paston/PA Wire
Wimbledon fans - Steven Paston/PA Wire

The 30-year-old, who has been camping in south-west London for three nights, said: “But when I saw for the first time the grass of the Wimbledon park, I lost all my bad vibes – only good vibes.”

Baring 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.”

In one sense, it was an opening day like no other, given Wimbledon’s ban on Russian and Belarussian players, and the decision by the sport’s governing body to strip the tournament of points on the professional tour.

Vadym and Inna Prystaiko - Adam Davy/PA Wire
Vadym and Inna Prystaiko - Adam Davy/PA Wire

However, the All England Lawn Tennis Club appeared defiant, inviting Vadym Prystaiko, the Ukrainian ambassador to the UK, into the royal box and pledging to involve refugees from the invaded country in the Centre Court centenary celebrations on Sunday.

Sally Bolton, the club’s chief executive, said that thanks to improvements in “grass court technology care and attention”, the courts can now withstand a full two weeks of use.

She said: “This is the first year of permanent middle Sunday, so we are expecting a record crowd because of that.”