Not only were there no fans at Wimbledon last June, there was no tournament at all at the All England Club, wiped out by the pandemic.
When play picks up Monday on the English lawns for the first time since 2019, Wimbledon is allowing half-capacity — 15,000 a day on the grounds. The men’s and women’s finals on Centre Court, however, will seat close to the full boat of about 15,000.
Last week, the U.S. Open, which was held last year without fans, announced it will have full-capacity crowds when the final Grand Slam of the season gets underway Aug. 30.
Tennis legend John McEnroe, working for ESPN, was on site for the dreary 2020 Open. Now he’s headed to Wimbledon and can’t wait for fans to be back.
In fact, McEnroe, a longtime Knicks fan, admitted one of the best times he’s had at a sporting event came this month when attending Game 2 at the Garden against the Hawks with 16,000-plus on hand.
“I don’t think I need to answer how pumped up I am, and I’m just a commentator now,” McEnroe said about full capacity at the U.S. Open. “Imagine for the players. The fans have been cooped up and are just so champing at the bit to get out and let go. It’s going to be absolutely phenomenal. Awesome for all concerned. Barring any type of setback. It‘s going to be — I was going to say back to normal — but could even be better in a way.”
The Knicks’ lone win in the first round came with McEnroe in the house. The Douglaston, Queens native, an accomplished guitarist, also was in the Garden crowd Sunday for the Foo Fighters, the first concert since the pandemic, calling it “unreal.”
The night of Knicks was even better.
“Having been at the Knicks game, the one they won against Atlanta, the energy was unbelievable,” McEnroe said. “I’ve been to hundreds of games, been at sporting events thousands of times. That had to be top five or 10 in terms of loudest. It’s at 50 percent now [at Wimbledon], but that’s better than none. When Wimbledon was canceled last year, that was a shot in the gut for our sport. A terrible time. So to have it back is incredible.”
Wimbledon drama abounds even if Naomi Osaka pulled out after her controversial French Open withdrawal — citing, ultimately, depression.
Though Serena Williams is still trying to tie Margaret Court with 24 Grand Slam titles, Boca Raton’s Coco Gauff might have a better chance, coming off her stirring run to a French Open quarterfinal berth at age 17.
“I think if her game continues to evolve like it has, she could be the biggest thing in tennis by the end of the year,’’ ESPN’s Chris Evert said Tuesday on a conference call. “She could be the biggest thing in sports by the end of the year.”. I’m saying this [if she has] some great results.’’
On the men’s side, Rafael Nadal has withdrawn, giving Roger Federer a chance to break their tie of a record 20 Slam titles apiece in what could be his Wimbledon swan song.
However, the Swiss Maestro, coming off another knee surgery and approaching 40, just lost a grass-court tuneup in the second round in Germany.
It’s likelier Novak Djokovic (19 majors) ties Nadal and Federer at 20. Evert said Federer is facing “an uphill climb.’’
Djokovic, meanwhile, is gunning not just for a Grand Slam after winning the French Open in spectacular comeback fashion but the “Golden Slam.” That would also include late July’s Olympics. Djokovic has already won the 2021 Australian Open along with the French stunner — halfway to the first men’s Grand Slam since Rod Laver in 1969.
McEnroe called Djokovic “the best player to ever play on hard courts.’’ When it’s all said and done, the Serbian may surpass Federer and Nadal as the greatest of all time.