Wimbledon roof closes for 1st time

The new retractable roof over Centre Court was closed after rain halted play during a 4th-round match with Amelie Mauresmo leading top-ranked Dinara Safina

updated: June 30, 2009 13:58 IST
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Wimbledon, England:

Indoor tennis has come to Wimbledon.

The new retractable roof over Centre Court was closed Monday after light rain halted play during a fourth-round match with Amelie Mauresmo leading top-ranked Dinara Safina, 6-4, 1-4.

The court was initially covered with a green tarp in case the rain subsided so play could resume.

But All England Club officials quickly decided to shut the roof, which is making its debut this year atop the stadium built in 1922. It was the first rain delay of Wimbledon after a sunny first week.

"We've been waiting for it for so long, it's the first time ever at Wimbledon somebody's waiting for rain, but we'd still prefer the sunshine," All England Club chief executive Ian Ritchie said. "It's a historic moment in many ways and I'm sure they all feel delighted to be here. We'll be grateful if the sun comes back."

First, the floodlights were switched on, drawing applause, and a minute later, the white steel bars supporting the translucent roof began to move. It took six minutes for the roof's two sections to slide into place, meeting in the middle, at 4:46 p.m. When it was completely closed, spectators roared and many gave a standing ovation. They also shut their umbrellas.

Cool air filled the arena, as the ventilation kicked in to remove moisture from the air. While the scoreboards showed a documentary about the making of the roof, a voice over the loudspeakers announced at 5:10 p.m.: "The good news is play is to resume on Centre Court round about 2 minutes from now."

Indeed, exactly two minutes later, Mauresmo and Safina stepped back onto the court. Mauresmo looked up and checked out the new setup.

Following the usual warmup players are given when returning from a rain delay, the match resumed at 5:19 p.m., 45 minutes after Safina and Mauresmo had left.

On the first point ever played indoors at a tournament that began in 1877, Safina hit a backhand passing winner down the line. Mauresmo hit a 110 mph ace on the next point and eventually added two more aces to hold serve.

There was an unusual echo under the roof, not just when the ball came off the racket, but also on line judges' calls and applause from fans.

Oddly enough, matches on other courts resumed about the same time without the benefit of a roof, because the rain stopped.

Ritchie, the club's chief executive, said organizers would have to decide whether to reopen the roof for the next match on Centre Court, Andy Murray against Stanislas Wawrinka..

"We'll make a completely fresh assessment based on what the weather looks like then and we could open it again. If we can do that, that's certainly what we'll do," Ritchie said.