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By Pritha Sarkar
LONDON (Reuters) - It came as little surprise on Monday when Roger Federer declared that if he had triumphed at Wimbledon without any fans in attendance, it would have felt like a hollow victory.
The eight-time All England Club champion is one of the most loved athletes around the world, and no matter where he plays, or who he plays - including home favourites - he can always count on crowd support.
Hence he cannot be happier that Wimbledon's two main showcourts will be full from Tuesday onwards - the first time outdoor stadiums will be at 100% capacity at a sporting event in Britain since the COVID-19 pandemic shut down all sports in the country in March 2020.
It meant last year's Wimbledon was cancelled for the first time since the Second World War while the U.S. Open was played behind closed doors. The French Open, which was contested in September rather than it's usual May slot, allowed just 1,000 people into the grounds each day.
"I tried to think back like what would it have meant for me
to win Wimbledon with no crowds in a finals ... I felt like it probably would have taken 70% or 80% of everything away from me," the Swiss said after being wildly cheered on during his fourth-round win over Lorenzo Sonego on Monday.
"Sure, I would have been Wimbledon champion, but it never would have felt the same. That's why so happy that we have crowds back. I hope it stays this way."
With an injured knee forcing Federer to sit out the 2020 season after his run to the Australian Open semi-finals in January, he was mostly spared the ordeal of having to play in front of empty stands.
The one exception was his third-round win at last month's French Open, when Paris' COVID-19 curfew meant barely anyone was around to watch him pull off an incredible four-set win on an eerily-quiet Court Philippe Chatrier. It was not an experience he particularly enjoyed.
Hence he has been grateful that Wimbledon, which began the tournament at 50% capacity, will admit even more fans to cheer on the players.
"It already almost felt like a hundred percent, to be quite honest, because the fans here at Wimbledon, they do such a nice job to make us feel so special," the 39-year-old said.
"A hundred percent crowd is going to be incredible. Playing night session in Paris it was five people. The difference is immense."
Britain has experienced a surge in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks caused by the Delta variant, but with more than 50% of the adult population fully vaccinated, Wimbledon is being used as a pilot event for the safe return of crowds as part of the Government's Events Research Programme.
"I hope that this tournament or the Euro (in which the semi-finals and final are also taking place in London) or whatever events are going to keep on happening in the future also are not going to create more burden on more families and more people," Federer added.
"So let's enjoy it for what it is now."
(Reporting by Pritha Sarkar; editing by Stephen Coates)