Chris Evert and Jimmy Connors are the bookmaker's choices, Billie Jean King and Rod Laver are the sentimental favorites, and a distinguished honor roll of past champions is the object of affection as the centennial Wimbledon tennis championships begin Monday.

Evert, a 4-to-5 favorite at London's legalized betting shops, and Connors, at 2-to-1, are the top seeds, but they will have to play at the peak of their considerable talents to prevail over strong fields of 96 women and 128 men on the slick grass courts of the All-England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club.

There is a total of $375,600 in prize money at stake - including $25,800 and $23,200 to the champions of the gentlemen's and ladies' singles, respectively - but this is a fortnight, when none of the legitimate contenders give a second thought to money.

It is the most prestigious title in tennis that they long for, and the quest for the gleaming gold championship trophies (a plate for the women, a cup for the men) commands their total attention, concentration and utmost respect.

Even though it is played on fast grass, which inflates the value of an all-out attack (serve and rush the net) at the expense of tactics and finesse displayed on slower courts, Wimbledon is the ultimate test of the profession.

Not necessarily the best gauge of all-around skill, mind you, but certainly the measure of athleticism, command of the net, split-send reactions and championship fortitude.

"To win at Wimbledon, said Billie Jean King, in the midst of a comeback, "you have to have the guts and staying power to get through two weeks of tough matches and incredible pressure. Anyone who wins here is a champion on the inside."

A who's who of such champions will be on parade Monday, when the 91st Wimbledon Meeting (there was no competition during the two world wars) opens with regal pomp commemorating the centenary of the first lawn tennis tournament in 1877, a couble pressure. Anyone who wins here is of the original All-England club.

Queen Elizabeth II is scheduled to make her first appearance in the royal box since 1962 on July 1, to present the trophies to the women's singles finalists.

Although history is an integral part of the sport's most important convocation, decidedly British in character but worldwide in impact, it is the tennis monarchs of the present who play the dramatic roles in the pageant acted out on the 15 courts and 27 acres of picturesque and impeccably spruced club.

Evert, 22, won the singles in 1974 and 76, but she is in a tough half of the draw that includes King, Virginia Wade and Rosemary Casals.

Connors, 24, is the reigning U.S. Open champion and No. 1 player in the world, but he was beaten here in the final in 1975 (by Arthur Ashe) and in the quarterfinals last year (by Roscoe Tanner) after winning in 1974, the year he also swept the Australian and U.S. opens to establish himself as No. 1.

Connors has played only one match since winning the World Championship Tennis (WCT) title in Dallas five weeks ago, but has been practicing on grass. His first match scheduled Monday against Richard Lewis was put back one day so Connors could be fitted with a special splint for the right thumb he injured last week at London's Queen Club tourney.

Connors will have to be ready, because if the men's draw, which has more depth than ever before in the hundred years, goes according to form, he would have to beat fellow Americans Stan Smith, Brian Gottfried and Tanner - all strong serve-and-volley players - just to reach the final July 2.

There he would most likely meet defending champ Bjorn Borg, runner-up to Connors in the 1976 U.S. Open and in world ranking.

If the seedings hold up, the pairings in the fourth round will be: Connors (No.1) vs. Smith (11), Gottfried (5) vs. Bob Lutz (15), Tanner (4) vs. Adriano Panatta (10), Raul Ramirez (7) vs. Phil Dent (13), Italian Open champ Vitas Gerulaitis (8) vs. Dick Stockton (9), French champ Guillermo Vilas (3) vs Mark Cox (14), Ilie Nastase (6) vs. Harold Solomon (16), and Borg (2) vs. Wojtek Fibak (12).

If the judgment of the computer-assisted seeding committee is borne out in the women's singles, the quarterfinals will be Evert (No. 1) vs King (5), Wade (3) vs Casals (6), Australian Open champ Kerry Reid (8) vs. Sue Barker (4), and Martina Navratilova (2) vs. Betty Stove (7).

Evert plays Ruta Gerulaitis, the flamboyant Broadway Vitas's younger sister and Indiana Loves teammate, in the first round, and will likely meet Californian Tracy Austin, the youngest competitor ever at Wimbledon at age 14, in the third round.

King was a 60-to-1 longshot when she announced in March that she would make a comeback following her third knee operation last November. But she is fit, trim and playing well enough to have forced the odds down to 5 to 1.

Borg, just turned 21, opens Monday's center-court program, against Antonio Zugarelli, runner-up in the Italian open on slow clay but also a formidable serve-and-volley player.

The man least likely to live up to his seeding is Solomon, of Silver Spring, Md., whose backcourt game is not suited to fast, skiddy, low-bouncing turf, especially since weeks of rain have left the courts particularly green and slippery this year. The last time he played on grass, in the 1974 Grand Prix Masters in Australia, Solomon won only nine games in three matches.

He may return serve well through to get past Steve Dorcherty, who has a big serve but little else, in the first round. But he is a poor bet to survive the winner of Tom Okker vs. Ross Case in the second.