Classy day of sport and song celebrates Centre Court’s new roof

Andre Agassi, Steffi Graf, Kim Clijsters and Tim Henman

Andre Agassi, Steffi Graf, Kim Clijsters and Tim Henman

Like everything that Wimbledon does it was, of course, a class act.

The baptising of the Centre Court roof, perfectly organised and professionally presented by “a bunch of amateurs” as the All England Club tend to call themselves, had the lot. Star names to baptise the grass ahead of the 2009 Championships, a full house of 15,000 who had scrambled to pay £35 a head for the tickets (which had all gone five minutes after they went on sale) and even some predictable input from the weather.

As the husband-and-wife team of Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf (30 Grand Slams between them) emerged to play a one-set mixed doubles against Tim Henman and Kim Clijsters (one Slam between them) it started to rain. But no-one noticed. Why should they, at this new-look Wimbledon?  Everyone was dry and happy. Warm, too, since the roof not only blots out rain but cuts the sort of chilly wind which was blustering around today.

There had been rain, too, heavy rain, in mid-morning of this special day for the Ceremony of the Roof – something that had been three years in the construction and nine long years in planning. The roof was prudently closed until shortly before the gates were opened to admit the paying customers at noon.

At a price that can only be guessed at – since Wimbledon, as chairman Tim Phillips says, “never discuss costs” – the roof weighs 3,000 tons overall. Of that, the moving part – “the folding fabric concertina” as BBC TV presenter and former tennis champion Sue Barker described it – accounts for 1,000 tons. Its translucence gives an impressive amount of light, as the audience and the assembled VIPs discovered when the ceremony of the closing got under way.

Before that happened, there was the opportunity for the crowd to greet some of the great Wimbledon champions – Pat Cash and Boris Becker were present to see the action, as were Britain’s trio of post-war ladies’ singles champions Virginia Wade, Angela Mortimer and Ann Jones.

Cash said: “On a day like today [the roof] is perfect.” He then added a typical touch of humour by adding: “It is going to rain today but not during the Championships, so this may be your only chance to see it.”

The four players actually doing the hard work were then presented to a rousing welcome. Agassi called Centre Court “the stage of my first triumph” (his 1992 Wimbledon win), while Graf revealed she had first come here at the age of 12. “It meant the world to me then and it still does,” she said. “There is no other [sporting] place in the world with such tradition and heritage. And this is another special memory today.”

There were songs by Katherine Jenkins, Faryl Smith and the four-man classical/pop group Blake, with the musical entertainment getting under way to coincide with the roof closing, announced as an eight-minute task but one which seemed to be closer to six. The choice of “Amazing Grace” for the opening number by Jenkins and Smith was particularly appropriate as, with a barely discernible rumble, the roof inched its way towards full cover. Blake’s rendition of “Hallelujah” was also apt.

Inevitably, a couple of pigeons were trapped by the closure and fluttered wildly about in search of an escape route. Everyone else was more than content to watch the unfolding pageant on this very special day. Jenkins brought laughter when she nominated Agassi as her favourite player while the giant TV screens showed Becker sitting in the Royal Box trying not to look embarrassed – or disappointed.

She also revealed that what she called “my jewelled flip flops” were being worn under orders “because I don’t want to make holes in the grass.”

And so, after head groundsman Eddie Seaward and referee Andrew Jarrett had run their hands over the turf to make sure the airflow system had removed all the inevitable condensation caused by the closure of the roof over a full house, the court was pronounced fit for purpose –  the entry of the champions. The new-look Wimbledon was in business.

11 Comments

  1. rose
    Posted 17 May, 2009 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

    i would like to see the whole process just one day during the championships but if it doesnt all the better!!!

  2. Dianne
    Posted 17 May, 2009 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

    Great disappointment that we were unable to see this great event on TV or through our Macs in Canada !! Thank you for the Live Blogs, interesting articles that kept us up-to-date. Sign us two Brits and longtime Henman fans.

  3. Lesley Leach
    Posted 18 May, 2009 at 8:24 am | Permalink

    I WAS fortunate enough to see the BBCi version of the whole celebrations, 2.30pm through to 6pm. I was glued to the TV the entire time and thoroughly enjoyed every minute. My question is, will there ever be a DVD produced of this day’s events? I’m sure there are millions of fans who would purchase such a DVD, I saw it and yet I’d be the first to purchase the event on disc.

  4. caroline ledger
    Posted 20 May, 2009 at 6:15 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for a wonderful day. The thoughtful combination of superb tennis stars together with music, as well as the supporting staff working in the background, really put the “Great” back into Britain. We are living with extraordinary bad news, and throughout the world people are enduring terrible privatons. But what you achieved on Sunday gave us all hope and renewed appreciation of those who strive and care. Would you be considering producing a CD of the event, and if such a thing could happen, please make sure that you include all the music we heard. i.e. the lovely song by an unnamed young man which was played before the major proceedings got under way.

  5. gill milnes
    Posted 26 May, 2009 at 6:52 pm | Permalink

    WILL THERE BE A REBROADCAST OR A DVD PLEASE

  6. liz towning
    Posted 27 May, 2009 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    What was the song sung by ?James Blunt at the beginning of the programme Centre Court Celebration please…… Thanks

  7. jennabear11
    Posted 28 May, 2009 at 11:03 pm | Permalink

    I’m not sure but I absolutely adored Faryl Smith’s performance. I got her album from http://bit.ly/FarylSmithAmazon and can not stop listening to it!

  8. Lesley Leach
    Posted 7 June, 2009 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

    Is there ANY news of a DVD being produced in the near future re ‘Celebrating the New Centre Court’ Thousands of tennis fans would absolutely love to have this day recorded on a DVD. Please think about it. So looking forward to this year’s tournament, hoping that Rafa is going to be fit in time to take part. Lesley Leach.

  9. Anonymous
    Posted 12 August, 2009 at 6:45 am | Permalink

    i tuned katherine jenkins everything i do song

  10. Kay Lowe
    Posted 27 September, 2009 at 11:30 pm | Permalink

    We want DVD!!!

  11. Val
    Posted 28 June, 2010 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

    Please produce a dvd of the opening of the roof – i missed it on TV


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