Patrick McEnroe Calls Wimbledon 'the Cathedral of Tennis' as Grand Slam Kicks Off

Julian Finney/Getty Patrick McEnroe

After two years, Grand Slam tennis is back in England.

The first round of the 2021 Wimbledon tournament kicked off Monday, marking the return of the annual event after last year's tournament was canceled amid the COVID-19 pandemic and making this year's Grand Slam can't-miss.

"Wimbledon has a unique combination of tradition and history while also always being forward looking," Patrick McEnroe, a former professional tennis player with 16 men's doubles titles to his name, tells PEOPLE.

McEnroe, 54, is back at Wimbledon as a tennis commentator for ESPN. He says he's "so excited to actually get on a plane and watch live tennis with fans at Wimbledon the cathedral of tennis. This will be epic."

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High-profile tennis stars including Novak Djokovic, Serena Williams - who is still vying for a record 24th' Grand Slam title - and Roger Federer are all playing. Federer, an eight-time men's singles winner at the tournament, is returning to play after a knee injury last year.

Other athletes have opted out, however, including Rafael Nadal and Naomi Osaka, who has decided not to play after withdrawing from the French Open citing efforts to preserve her mental health.

"We will all miss Osaka, who we wish a speedy recovery, and of course Nadal," McEnroe tells PEOPLE. "Two big losses no doubt but with Serena, Djokovic, the return of Federer and perhaps a big Coco Gauff run [it's exciting]."

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McEnroe suspects that the quick turnaround between the French Open and Wimbledon is typically "no problem for the players," but could be "one of the reasons Nadal decided not to play."

The tennis commentator also teases a new outdoor studio at Wimbledon for ESPN, which he assures is "amazing." He promises: "We at ESPN always have new bells and whistles at Wimbledon."

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Last year's Wimbledon tournament was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The decision was made after an analysis of the preparations required to stage the tennis tournament, organizers said at the time. The prep required would not have aligned with U.K. government health and safety guidelines, and - as they are expected to continue for many months - ultimately ruled out a postponement of the tournament.