Wimbledon's New Retractable Roof Is Closed for First Time

By Liz Clarke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 29, 2009; 6:46 PM

WIMBLEDON, England, June 29 -- It started as a rumble and quickly built into full-throated cheers. Flashbulbs popped. Applause broke out. And seatmates traded high fives.

It wasn't a brilliant tennis stroke that prompted the hosannas at Wimbledon on Monday afternoon but the competitive debut of Centre Court's $132 million roof.

And it came off without a hitch.

Play was halted for roughly 30 minutes (eight to bring the structure to a close and another 20 to ramp up the massive air-conditioning system that leeches humidity from the bubble) during the second set of the fourth-round meeting between Wimbledon's top seed, Dinara Safina, and its 2006 champion, Amelie Mauresmo, with Mauresmo leading 6-4, 1-4.

With only mild sprinkles falling, the translucent roof was arguably deployed prematurely. But after a sun-drenched first week to the tournament, Wimbledon officials needed little prompting Monday to press the structure into service.

And what was the harm, really, in behaving like an impatient child who couldn't wait a moment more to show off a new toy?

Centre Court spectators reveled in becoming part of Wimbledon history, as did commentators for Radio Wimbledon, who narrated each incremental development as the two halves of the roof crept on their trusses toward each other, centimeter by centimeter, in breathless fashion.

"The roof is moving!" the announcer declared. "It's a privilege to be here on Centre Court at this moment!"

"It's almost shut now!

"It's agonizingly close to being shut!"

The moment closure was achieved, the BBC interviewed Ian Ritchie, chief executive of the All England club, who declared it "an historic moment!"

Indeed, Wimbledon, the sport's most prestigious tournament, will never be held hostage by the elements again now that Centre Court's futuristic roof can deflect the summer downpours that have wreaked havoc with the schedule since the first tennis ball was struck.

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