NHS staff and developers of COVID vaccines have received an “emotional” standing ovation from the Wimbledon crowd on day one of the tournament.
Dame Sarah Gilbert, who designed the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, joined her colleagues, National Health Service staff and other front-line workers in the royal box as invited guests to watch defending men’s champion Novak Djokovic play 19-year-old Briton Jack Draper in the tournament opener on Monday (local time).
Just before play began, the announcer revealed the scientist and other front-line workers were in the crowd.
“They include leaders who have developed the anti-COVID vaccines, NHS …” he began, before being cut short by a loud cheer as spectators rose to their feet to offer more than a minute’s sustained applause.
Dame Sarah looked emotional as the applause rang out.
The 2020 grand slam was cancelled due to the pandemic. With its return, and with Britain having enduring one of the highest death tolls from the virus, Wimbledon organisers wanted to honour some of those crucial to the country’s response.
The All England Club has given 100 daily tickets for centre court and court one, for various groups who were at the front of Britain’s fight against the virus.
NHS fundraiser Sir Tom Moore’s daughter, Hannah Ingram-Moore, was among those present at the start of the first Wimbledon tournament in two years. Sir Tom, who died of non-virus-related causes in February, aged 100, famously raised £32 million ($A58 million) for healthcare workers by walking laps of his garden.
Once play got underway, Djokovic cruised to victory against Draper, despite a few tumbles and a shock first-set loss.
“It feels great,” he told the crowd afterward, saying he felt he was back on the “most sacred court in the world”.
“I was very sad last year that Wimbledon was cancelled – it was difficult times for everybody – but I’m really glad the sport is back.”
Australia’s Ash Barty, the top women’s seed, will step out in her first match on centre court on Tuesday at 10.30pm (AEST). She will play Spain’s Carla Suarez Navarro.