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Page last updated at 19:55 GMT, Monday, 29 June 2009 20:55 UK

Roof is welcome Wimbledon addition

The Centre Court roof
The Centre Court crowd enjoyed the roof's competitive debut

By Chris Bevan
BBC Sport at Wimbledon

By our own admission, Britain is a nation obsessed with precipitation - and never more so than during Wimbledon fortnight.

There has been a significant difference this year, however.

The new multi-million pound roof on Centre Court meant that, for the first time, the anticipation had been over when the rain would start, rather than when it would end.

For the whole of the first week, it seemed the weather was mocking the All England Club and its new toy. Britain basked in a heatwave and most days there was hardly a cloud in the sky.


Frustratingly for tournament referee Andrew Jarrett, who has the final say on when the roof is shut, the button marked 'close' remained largely untouched, apart from day two when the structure was edged forwards to provide some shade for the dignitaries in the Royal Box.

More scorching sunshine was forecast for week two and the possibility emerged that this could be the first rain-free tournament since 1995. Couldn't the cost of the roof - reported to be £40-80m - have been better spent elsewhere? On trying to produce a British champion perhaps?

But finally, late on Monday afternoon, the big moment arrived. Enough drizzle was falling during the fourth-round match between Amelie Mauresmo and Dinara Safina and the decision was taken - the roof would be used during a competitive match for the first time.

It began, at around 4.30pm, with what has been a familiar scene down the years - groundsmen rushing into the arena to pull the covers across court.

But this time it was different. The spectators already present rose to their feet in excitement. Those outside with tickets rushed to their seats.

"We've waited a long time for this," said All England Club chief executive Ian Ritchie. "It's an historic moment for the first proper match and they are all delighted to be here."

Centre Court roof

Report - Centre Court's new roof

Soon everyone's eyes were fixed skywards as the gleaming canopy above them trundled shut - at approximately eight inches a second - and if people weren't clicking away with their cameras they were bragging on their mobile phones about where they were.

About 10 minutes later, at 4.47pm, it was official. After 132 years completely at the mercy of whatever the weather could throw at it, Wimbledon was, if only partly, an indoor tournament. It was just a shame that, by then, the rain had stopped.

Not that it mattered too much to those present. The moment when the two sections of the 3,000-tonne roof locked together was greeted with more cheers and applause, followed by a wait while the the air-management system removed condensation from the arena.

"It's a real privilege to be here for this," Charlotte Blick of the New Forest told BBC Sport. "It's a fantastic idea - matches can go on for longer and later."

Geraldine Moran of Caddington added: "I didn't think they needed to close it when they did. But it's great for people who have bought tickets - they are guaranteed to see the games they have paid for."

And Chris Ridley of Bournemouth said: "There's a better atmosphere. The spotlights are so bright you can see everything and the sound bounces back to the crowd and the players."

Safina and Mauresmo returned and, after a brief knock-up to acclimatise to the new conditions and bright floodlights, more firsts followed. The first serve under the canopy came from 2006 champion Mauresmo at 5.19pm - the first winning shot came seconds later from top seed Safina in the same rally.

Within an hour, the world number one became the first match-winner too, triumphing 4-6 6-3 6-4 before giving the new arena a resounding thumbs-up.

The crowd gets even louder - you feel them a bit more - so it is very nice to play under the roof

Dinara Safina

Apart from a brief slip by Safina in the opening game, neither player had looked troubled by the novelty of their surroundings, while the different acoustics provided by the roof only helped create a better atmosphere for everybody present.

"The crowd gets even louder - you feel them a bit more - so it is very nice to play under the roof," Safina explained afterwards. "There is not really that much difference otherwise."

The Russian, who was a set down but 4-1 up in the second set when play was stopped, added: "I didn't have any problems in adjusting and I felt pretty comfortable. I wouldn't say that the grass was slippy - everything was perfect."

Wimbledon legend John McEnroe, a three-time champion here, also gave the roof his seal of approval after watching from the BBC commentary box.

"I thought it was awesome," McEnroe said. "People were all pumped up, and it works. It looks great.

"The temperature dropped 15 to 20 degrees so it was comfortable for the players and the crowd were energised because it was so hot out there earlier.

It is definitely a plus for the tournament. We haven't seen any really bad days so far in this year's tournament but I've been here some years when they have really needed it

Amelie Mauresmo

"As for the noise, if you hit the ball right there is nothing like it. When you hit it cleanly there is a beautiful sound and the players love that."

Mauresmo, unsurprisingly, was less enthused but never tried to blame the roof for her defeat.

"You have to adjust quickly," she said. "It makes conditions a little bit difficult. The ball flies a little bit more and it took a little time to adjust. Visually when the ball is in the air and you have to hit an overhead, it is very bright.

"But it is still a good thing. It is definitely a plus for the tournament. We haven't seen any really bad days so far in this year's tournament but I've been here some years when they have really needed it."

Another bonus the roof brings is that it allows matches to continue after darkness falls - as Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka and everybody else on Centre Court discovered.

Murray eventually sealed a thrilling victory at 2238 BST, the latest ever finish to a Wimbledon match, to ensure one of the most memorable days in the tournament's history ended in style.

There was probably only one man present who might have been secretly sorry that this was the day that Wimbledon finally got the better of the elements.

Sir Cliff Richard, who famously led a sing-along in the rain with the Centre Court crowd in 1996, was on court but was not asked to provide a repeat performance - possibly another reason why the roof is a welcome and valuable addition to the world's most prestigious tennis tournament.

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see also
Roof rolled out at Centre Court
29 Jun 09 |  Tennis
Murray wins late-night thriller
29 Jun 09 |  Tennis
Murray v Wawrinka as it happened
29 Jun 09 |  Tennis
Safina edges Mauresmo under roof
29 Jun 09 |  Tennis
Safina v Mauresmo as it happened
29 Jun 09 |  Tennis
Centre Court roof 'will succeed'
24 Jun 09 |  Tennis
Stars play under Wimbledon roof
17 May 09 |  Tennis
Firm proud of 1m Wimbledon roof
21 Apr 09 |  South west
Wimbledon set for late finishes
21 Apr 09 |  Tennis
Order of play
23 May 09 |  Tennis
Men's doubles latest
02 Jun 08 |  Tennis
Women's singles latest
23 May 08 |  Tennis
26 Jun 07 |  Results
Women's singles results
26 Jun 07 |  Results
Wimbledon: Live map
22 Jun 09 |  Tennis
Men's singles draw
26 Aug 11 |  Tennis
Women's singles draw
28 Jan 10 |  Tennis

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