It was a half-hour to be cherished. At 1:50 p.m. on a cold, gloomy Monday, the crowd of 14,000 huddied around center court at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet clubhouse. And their applause swelled.

The band of the Welsh Guards, resplendent in scarlet uniforms and polished brass, played the "March of the Kings" from "Aida" as 41 of the 52 living singles champions of Wimbledon walked out onto the most celebrated lawn in tennis to receive commemorative medals from the Duke of Kent in ceremonies opening the centenary of the sport's oldest and most prestigious tournament.

Despite the indifference of Jimmy Connors, who exercised the right to turn his back on this once-in-a-lifetime occasion, but then had the effrontery to practice on an outside court while the "Parade of Champions" was going on, this was a pageant to bring a sense of awe and a lump to the throat of tennis traditionalists.

"It was scary, but fun," said Karen Hantze Susman, 34, champion of 1962, who has returned to play here for the first time since 1964. "I got goosebumps."

The procession included the only men to win the grand slam of tennis: Don Budge (1938) and Rod Laver (1962, '69). There were Jean Borotra, Henri Cochet, and Rene Lacoste, three of the French "Four Musketeers" who won Wimbledon singles in the era they also monopolized the Davis Cup (1927-32).

The galaxy of postwar champions included eight competing in the singles this year (Laver, Stan Smith, Jan Kodes, Bjorn Borg, Maria Bueno, Susman, six-time champion Billie Jean King, and Chris Evert).

In a brief, dignified, moving ceremony, they strode in turn along a crimson carpet, past a table draped in pea green on which the silver medals glistened, and received theirs from the Duke, president of the Lawn Tennis Association of Great Britain.

In a touching final gesture, medals were presented to Elizabeth Ryan, 85, and Jacques Brugnon, 82, "representing all the doubles champions." Ryan on walking crutches, paused to wave to the gallery.

She won 12 doubles and seven mixed titles between 1914 and 1934, and shares with King the career record for Wimbledon titles (19), even though she never captured the singles. Brugnon, the doubles specialist of the "Four Musketeers," won twice each with Cochet and Borotra.

Connors, whom the British now regard as The Rude American, will not receive his medal, the All England Club committee decided late today. Major David Mills, the secretary, issued this terse statement: "Medals will be sent only to former champions who indicated they could not be here, and not to those who were here and had the extreme discourtesy not to collect it."