This weekend the first tennis will be played on Centre Court at Wimbledon under a roof which means an end to a rain delay. This is bad news for umbrella makers but good news for fans and players. Here is a list of players who would have been happy to see a roof over Centre Court earlier than 2009.
2007 Rafael Nadal v Robin Soderling
The clouds didn’t have a silver lining in 2007 they just had more rain as a near endless supply of H2O played havoc with the tournament. It was Britain’s wettest June since records began with a national average of 134.5 millimetres (52.9 inches) falling, beating the previous high of 121.2mm in 1980. Club historian Alan Little, backed by 30 years experience, said: “There have been lots of wet years at Wimbledon, but this is the worst I can remember.”
The worst affected were Rafael Nadal and Robin Soderling, who took five days to complete their third-round match, which was interrupted by eight rain delays. Some 92½ hours elapsed between the start and the end of this match, eventually won, 6-4, 6-4, 6-7, 4-6, 7-5 by Nadal. Sports Illustrated described the players as “marching mindlessly between court and locker room like Buckingham Palace guards”.
Nadal was left seriously unimpressed, especially by the Club’s decision not to play on the middle Sunday. “There is no doubt that tension was building every day. Five days to know the end of a game… it is a long time. I am very tired. It is a long walk to the locker room every time.”
2001 Tim Henman v Goran Ivanisevic
Britain’s great hope for a first men’s champion since Fred Perry was literally washed away in 2001. Tim Henman was on the wrong end of the result in his semi-final against eventual winner Goran Ivanisevic and, according to most pundits, the water was to blame.
When the rain first fell Henman was in the ascendance, leading 2-1 having taken the third set 6-0. The pair next returned to the court on Saturday, but for just 51 minutes before it rained again. The match finished on Sunday when Ivanisevic closed it out 7-5, 6-7(6), 0-6, 7-6(5), 6-3.
Henman’s former coach David Felgate said the rain had cost Henman his place in history. “The rain delays hurt Tim far more than Goran”. Pat Cash added: “The better player lost and really the rain delays helped Goran far more than Tim”. Even Ivanisevic believed the rain was heaven sent: “God wanted me to win this game – he sent the rains”.
According to the press, the All England club had failed Henman specifically and Britain in general. The Times thundered in an editorial: “A roof, however, would have saved the All-England Club from the ridicule and anger now washing over the Centre Court.”
1996 Pete Sampras v Richard Krajicek
This rain delay did not last very long but it is certainly the most famous. On Centre Court rain stopped play in the men’s quarter-final between Pete Sampras and Richard Krajicek with the scores level at 2-2. In attendance was Sir Cliff Richard who grabbed a microphone and led a sing-a-long of his hits, including Summer Holiday, Bachelor Boy and Congratulations. His only support was the backing vocals of tennis players Virginia Wade, Martina Navratilova, Pam Shriver and Conchita Martinez.
The British press took to the concert like ducks to water. The Telegraph named the event “Cliffstock” and reported that “numerous fans of Sir Cliff were left dewy-eyed by the experience”. The Independent described it as “the finest British performance on Wimbledon quarter-finals day since the teeny-boppers saw their beloved Bjorn Borg succumb to Roger Taylor in 1973”. While the Daily Mail said “some of the biggest hits ever to grace Centre Court came in a performance from Sir Cliff Richard – via a microphone rather than a racquet”.
Sir Cliff said at the time: “This is definitely a first for me. I usually have a fantastic band and rehearse for six weeks before I even appear. I never thought I would play on the Centre Court of Wimbledon.” The rain delay lasted just 30 minutes before the concert was stopped and the match resumed. But has anything happened on Centre Court, apart from the tennis, that is more famous?
1988 Boris Becker v Stefan Edberg
A week of sunshine for the first week lulled everyone into a false sense of security, then the clouds set in and rain affected every day bar one of the second week. American tennis writer Bud Collins commented: “once more it was strawberries and cream and thousands of soaked customers huddled in entryways preparing to tell their friends they’d done their patriotic bit by being drenched at Wimbledon”.
Only five games were possible in the men’s single final between Boris Becker and Stefan Edberg because of rain. The start had been delayed by four-and-a-half hours and only 22 minutes were played before the weather intervened. The Daily Mail described it as “the great washout” as the final went onto a second day for the first time since 1902.
The final of the men’s doubles final, women’s doubles and mixed doubles took three days to complete. The Sunday Times even investigated the idea of putting a roof on Centre Court. It quoted professor Bernard Neal, a structural engineer and member of the Wimbledon management committee, who said the plan was unfeasible.
1982 John McEnroe
The rain fell early and often in one of the wettest Wimbledon’s on record, with 10 of the 13 days interrupted by weather. “What a doom-laden year this seems to be. On the second day, as on the first, there were only three results on the board,” The Times lamented early. After three days there were still 40 players in the men’s single who had not even taken to a court and only 65 of a scheduled 120 matches had been completed.
“It’s the worst Wimbledon in my experience,” said referee Fred Hoyles. “I don’t remember so many days with so much interference.” “I’ve never seen it this bad,” said Ray Moore, a player who had been at Wimbledon since 1963. One player badly affected was the defending champion John McEnroe. In reaching the final against Jimmy Connors, McEnroe had played three singles matches in three days, plus his backlog of assorted doubles commitments. ”I didn’t feel bad, but I didn’t feel fresh as a daisy,” McEnroe said after losing the final in four sets.