Rain doesn’t stop play on Centre Court’s big day

Under the Centre Court Roof

Under the Centre Court Roof

First, strangely, the good news: it rained. When could such an event at Wimbledon ever be said to be good news? Answer: on the day the new Centre Court roof was unveiled in front of a capacity crowd and a worldwide television audience.

Of course the splendid programme of exhibition matches featuring Andre Agassi, Steffi Graf, Tim Henman and Kim Clijsters would have been played with the new roof closed no matter what the weather, because actually the event was a required test under health and safety legislation ahead of the Championships next month.

But if you’re going to be showing off a shiny new roof, it does make the day all the more satisfying if the British weather doesn’t come up with one of its amusing little jokes by producing an afternoon of blazing heat.

Fortunately it seemed that on this of all days, the weather gods grasped what the script required of them. For one thing, the rain held off until the scheduled moment the roof began to close at exactly 2.39pm – and then, satisfyingly, as play got under way in the mixed doubles match at 3.25pm, a lengthy spell of that particularly frustrating brand of on-off rain which has blighted many a Wimbledon day began outside Centre Court.

The only disappointment, on the inside, was that you couldn’t particularly tell. The rain was too light to hear on the translucent fabric of the roof, although it would certainly have been heavy enough to scupper all thoughts of grasscourt tennis without the new structure in position.

If the weather obliged, then the tennis did, too. It could scarcely fail, with such a line-up.  No British audience had ever seen Andre Agassi and Steffi Graff play mixed doubles together – and, as Tim Henman pointed out with a smile after he and Kim Clijsters triumphed, the husband-and-wife team will never have the chance for revenge. This day was a one-off, and all 15,000 present will find themselves asked time and again in the coming weeks: “What was it like under the roof?”

So what was it like? Inevitably – indeed, by definition – it was simply different, and clearly an extraordinary achievement. When the roof first closed, what became evident most quickly was that the unpleasantly cold and blustery May afternoon was literally shut outside.

Under the new structure, the air was still and temperate. The air management system was audible only to those who consciously paused to listen for it, and even then only just. Other sounds were altered – ball on racket was amplified, as was the public address system, but on the other hand the steady traffic of jet aircraft on its way into Heathrow was almost entirely muffled. The light was different, too, a little like a cloudy day in the open air.

Above all, however – and as with all such Big New Things – what was most striking was how quickly all this strange newness became almost ordinary. The focus switched naturally to events on court, which is just as it should be here at SW19.

In terms of the tennis itself, Henman and Clijsters won the opening match of the day, defeating the husband and wife team of Agassi and Graf 7-6. After a short break, Agassi beat the former British number one 6-4 before Clijsters was a 6-4 winner in the final match of the day against seven-time Wimbledon champion Steffi Graf.

“This is a part of history,” said Agassi. “It’s a day we’ll always remember. It’s been a privilege for me and my wife to be here.”

Not just them. On the Centre Court 15,000 people witnessed the future in motion – and it works.


  1. Posted 18 May, 2009 at 9:03 am | Permalink

    I was very moved by the event and what it does for the game of tennis, not just in England but around the whole world. Awe inspiring.

  2. Jon Warren
    Posted 18 May, 2009 at 10:20 am | Permalink

    This was the first time attending any match at the AELTC – and what a delight!

    The day outside the courts was blustery, cold and humid and even sitting in our seats near the top of the newly refurbished Centre Court, under the permanent canopy was not much better.

    As soon as the new roof closed and the air-management system came on, it became warmer, the wind stopped and it was like sitting in a comfortable cinema watching an epic play unfold on a wide screen – all in 3D!
    Well done the AELTC – money well spent.

  3. Jackie Carey
    Posted 19 May, 2009 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

    We missed the big game !! Will the Agassi/Graff/Henman/Clijsters game be available on DVD? please say YES !! thanks Jackie

  4. Judith
    Posted 22 May, 2009 at 6:45 am | Permalink

    Please could you tell me who the commentator of the Wimbledon Test Event was?
    Regards Judith

  5. Duncan
    Posted 23 May, 2009 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

    I don’t know what it is about tennis that makes me teary-eyed but I was even emotional watching this exhibition. It would be great to get a dvd of it, especialy to see Graf playing again. Brilliant…

  6. Posted 30 December, 2009 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

    #6- I totally know what you mean! For some reason, tennis makes me very emotional. Absolutely brilliant match!

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