Yesterday afternoon I sat down to watch the Wimbledon Centre Court showcase in which they unveiled the new retractable roof.
The sliding, canvassed roof barely had time to shut Sunday for the All England Club’s grand opening — or closing — of the new structure before the rain starting pouring down over south London. In the same kind of weather that has forced so many rain delays in the past, the Centre Court then hosted a televised tennis spectacle in perfect conditions.
“It’s a real treat to be able to play in these conditions inside, when it’s been so miserable, cold, windy and wet outside,” said Tim Henman, who teamed with Kim Clijsters to play married couple Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf in doubles and singles matches.
It now seems as though no fans will ever have to head home again if they hold a Centre Court ticket. The 15,000 spectators and invited guests had a great opportunity to feel first hand how the atmosphere will feel during the Wimbledon main event.
“The conditions were really good,” Clijsters said. “And I love the sound. Wimbledon already had that, where you feel like when [the crowd is] really into the match, the sound really comes down to the players. And now even more so with the roof. For the players, it just feels like they’re right there next to you.”
Agassi also said the closed surrounding will take the atmosphere to a new level.
“The sound was magnificent,” he said. “I think when you get two people out there who can really play, and move and hit the ball, I think you’re going to feel a level of titanic battle that you haven’t seen yet. … That’s an environment that lends itself to some spectacular tennis.”
The roof is perhaps the biggest change to come to the 87-year-old tennis cathedral, and marks a remarkable break with tradition by the famously conventional All England Club.
The roof takes about 10 minutes to close, and the Centre Court’s ventilation system then needs about 30 minutes to get moisture out of the air and create the right conditions. During short rain showers, organizers still plan on using the traditional covers on the court to create shorter breaks. Once the roof is up, it will not open up until a match is over.
After finally getting the roof completed, Ian Ritchie, the chief executive of the All England Club, said he wouldn’t be surprised to see perfect weather at this year’s tournament. But that’s just fine with him.