Wimbledon Will Host ‘Centre Court Celebration’ With New Roof and Old Stars

On May 17, the All England Lawn Tennis Club, home of the prestigious and illustrious Wimbledon Championships, will celebrate its accomplishment of building a fully retractable and weatherproof roof over its famous Centre Court in readiness for the 2009 Wimbledon Championships. 

This adventurous building project has been in planning since January 2004, as part of the Club’s Long Term Plan, with money for the building work being raised by the most recent sale of Centre Court Debenture tickets.

According to AELTC organisers, the roof will provide ‘a first-class, consistent and safe playing environment in both open and closed positions.’

Combining tradition with innovation and functionality with its revolutionary translucent construction design, natural light will still reach the grass but when adverse conditions stops play, the famous Centre Court grass will be protected. 

‘It has been designed to close and open in under 10 minutes and will be closed primarily to protect play from inclement (and, if necessary, extremely hot) weather. 

Play will be suspended while the roof closes/opens before being resumed once both the court surface and bowl have attained the optimum conditions for players and increased capacity audience.

This process will take between 10-30 minutes depending on the prevailing climatic conditions.’

To celebrate, and test, the new roof and its movements, the AELTC are hosting a special event on May 17 called “A Centre Court Celebration.”

Being a unique event, Wimbledon organisers did something unique themselves. Tickets were offered for sale to anyone via online and telephone bookings—an amazing event in itself, considering that obtaining tickets for the real Championships in June and July is highly contentious and competitive. 

For the Championships an annual ballot system is implemented, with only one in five applicants being successful in gaining a ticket for a seat, day and court of the organisers’ choosing. 

Ian Ritchie, Chief Executive of the All England Club, said, ‘The demand for tickets was truly exceptional and we are delighted to have a capacity Centre Court crowd for a great day on May 17.’

The benefits of having this roof are clear to see.  No longer will there be unpredictable and long-lasting rain delays (at least for prestigious Centre Court matches starring the top players). 

Not only will players be sure of their match times as much as is possible in dry-weather play, ticket holders for Centre Court will be guaranteed to see play, making Centre Court tickets an even more prized commodity from these Championships forward. 

Likewise, should any long rain delays occur throughout the Championship fortnight, other matches might be moved to Centre to guarantee their completion. 

Additionally, all broadcasters can be reassured that they will be able to broadcast matches to millions of viewers worldwide.

Equally, matches can carry on late into the night if necessary, meaning there should be no repeat of last year’s final drama between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, which, due to two rain delays, carried on into the evening and essentially ended due to the falling darkness on Centre Court at 9.30 p.m.

However, does this roof and its effects really hold a positive prospect for the tournament?

Never again will important matches in the Championships be impacted by Mother Nature’s hand.  Will Wimbledon loose its trademark, the never-ending rain delays?

Weather-affected and light-affected dramas such as last year’s final will not be repeated.  No rain delays means that a struggling player will no longer be able to regroup and come back onto court with a refreshed and re-energised heart and soul. 

Wimbledon is famous for the frequency of its ‘rain stops play’ calls, court covers and umbrellas.  Let’s not forget Cliff Richard’s ‘Singing In The Rain’ outburst.  What will replace this long tradition?

Critics believe that Wimbledon could turn into a late-night event, allowing matches to continue long after midnight.  The prospect of 15,000 people streaming into neighbouring roads late at night, disrupting residents, is contentious. 

What do the players think?  Roger Federer, who writes a foreword in a commemorative book on the Centre Court and its transformation: ‘Centre Court: The Jewel in Wimbledon’s Crown’, published on May 18, believes that the roof won’t change play very much. 

‘I don’t think it’s going to change a whole lot, but the good thing is there is going to be less wind just because the roof is going to be back on.

The fixed roof, the sliding roof, is just going to save us all.  Me, sponsors, fans, players. It’s just going to make it easier for everybody. There’s always going to be a match on TV. That’s always a good thing, I think.

I’m excited that Wimbledon made that big step.’

Simon Barnes, a British journalist who has experienced 24 rain-dependent Wimbledons, maintains an old-school, philosophical attitude.

‘Now, when it rains, life will go on untroubled, at least for those with Centre Court tickets. Never again will we see that strange tent above the grass.

The legend of SW19 states that the groundsmen once rolled back that famous wet green canvas tent to discover a still life: two glasses, an empty champagne bottle and an equally empty pair of knickers. This year they’ll have to watch the tennis.’

Anyhow – what are the odds for a rain-free fortnight?

(Published on Bleacher Report; May 3rd, 2009)

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