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Last Updated: Friday, 19 December, 2003, 13:41 GMT
The Wimbledon roof debate
By Dan Warren

Could a covered Centre Court be the way forward for Wimbledon?
Could a covered Centre Court be the way forward for Wimbledon?
The perennial debate about whether Wimbledon should put a roof over Centre Court is now as much a part of SW19 tradition as Henman Hill and sightings of Cliff Richard in the crowd.

The vagaries of the British weather ensure the tournament is almost always disrupted at some point by heavy rain.

Newspaper reports suggest that the All England Club are about to grasp the nettle and that a roof over Centre Court will be in place by 2005 or 2006.

But will it actually work?

The case for

Rain delays are hugely frustrating for players and fans alike.

Matches are played in fits and starts over two or three days, robbing the fans of the chance to see their favourite stars, and invariably affecting the quality of the tennis.

It is tough for players to produce their best form when they are on for five minutes, come off for two hours, play another 30 minutes, break overnight and finish the following day.

A covered arena would also guarantee a full house on Centre Court on every day.

And the players would benefit from an atmosphere which would be intensified by the enclosed acoustics.

Plus, in an age where sport and marketing are ever more closely intertwined, such a move would go a long way to helping Wimbledon shed its old-fashioned image.

Even cricket, one of sport's great bastions of tradition, is making concessions to attract a bigger, younger audience with the high-octane thrills of the Twenty20 format.

Endless hours of coverage of a grey Wimbledon with green tarpaulin over the courts does little to promote the tournament as one of the great sporting events of the 21st century.

The case against

Unlike sports such as football and rugby, which can be played undercover at the Millennium Stadium on a less-than-perfect surface, lawn tennis has very particular needs.

Serena Williams serves at the Rod Laver Arena during the 2003 Australian Open
Australia's Rod Laver Arena has a retractable roof
Any use of a roof would leave the grass highly susceptible to condensation - leaving it as unplayable as if it were left uncovered in the rain.

Modern high-tech systems to control the climate, such as those in place in Cardiff, could not necessarily be used at the SW19 venue.

The Millennium Stadium is a brand-new structure from top to bottom, but Centre Court is 80 years old, and lacks the ventilation systems of modern stadia.

Some other tennis venues, such as those used for the Australian Open have sliding roofs - but that tournament is on hard courts, which react differently to a living surface like grass.

Covering Centre Court alone could also bring practical problems.

Rain early in the tournament would not affect the top seeds, who would be scheduled to play on the show court.

But with 19 other uncovered courts, all due to stage matches, the draw could go dramatically out of synch, with some players in the third round, and having to wait for days while the others played their opening matches.

As Wimbledon chairman Tim Phillips has said: "If it was straightforward to build a roof, we'd already have done it."

Wimbledon 'to get roof'
19 Dec 03  |  Tennis

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