WIMBLEDON, England (AP) — It’s where Serena Williams, Roger Federer, Martina Navratilova, Pete Sampras and Steffi Graf reigned. Rod Laver, Billie Jean King and Althea Gibson before that. And Bill Tilden, Helen Wills Moody, Don Budge and Suzanne Lenglen before that.
It’s been called the cathedral of tennis and the site of the most famous patch of grass in the world.
Centre Court at the current Church Road location of the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club opened 100 years ago, in 1922, and that centenary is being celebrated at Wimbledon on Sunday — which, in and of itself, is a special occasion, because it marks the debut of scheduled play on the fortnight's middle Sunday, which traditionally has been a day of rest at the grass-court Grand Slam tournament.
There is a sign on the side of the chair umpire's stand with the words “Centre Court” and “100.” A unique version of the ever-popular tournament towel for the occasion. A series of votes via Wimbledon.com let fans choose their favorite moments from the arena’s history.
The structure has been updated and improved over time, with new cushioned green seats this year, for example, and, most famously, the installation of a retractable roof ahead of the 2009 tournament. The capacity has grown from 9,989 seats and “standing accommodation” 3,600 when first opened, to today's 14,974 seats.
What does not seem to have changed is the reverence with which players regard the place.
That sentiment was expressed this way by seven-time Wimbledon champion Sampras after he earned what would be his last match win at Centre Court — or anywhere at the All England Club — by beating Martin Lee of Britain 6-3, 7-6 (1), 6-3 on June 24, 2002: "You step out on Centre Court, it’s like Mecca out there. The U.S. Open, French Open, those are great events, but Centre Court at Wimbledon, there’s something very special whenever you step out there. I feel like I kind of came back home today."
Some find it all a bit daunting. Some, of course, never get to play there. Some say they've gone inside to look around before the tournament begins, just to see it.
Here are the thoughts or recollections about Centre Court from some players of the past and present: