YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


Going above and beyond at Wimbledon

History unfolds as the new retractable Centre Court roof is finally put into use, signaling the start of a new era for the grandest Slam.

June 30, 2009|Chuck Culpepper

WIMBLEDON, ENGLAND — A fresh star blasted in Monday at Wimbledon, all gaudy and outsized and extravagant like most stars but with the quirk that this one happens to be inanimate.

The new Centre Court roof unfolded itself for its first real performance on Monday evening and within six bold and brassy hours already basically had harrumphed that it plans to spend the 21st century as a major player throwing its considerable weight around the Championships.

The roof was unavailable for comment after the latest Centre Court match in Wimbledon history ended beneath its showoff lights at 10:39 p.m., but left ample hints as to its potential effects at a genteel event.

It clearly will alter playing conditions at its merry leisure. It will spawn bubbling debates about roof-usage propriety, and protocol for roof-usage announcements toward players. It will lend British players an even greater home-court advantage. It might wreak advantages for roof-experienced players against roof-novice players.

And it will keep people up later, as demonstrated when Britain's title hopeful Andy Murray finally finished off Stanislas Wawrinka, 2-6, 6-3, 6-3, 5-7, 6-3, as the roof shone in the dark of a previously quiet nighttime village.

"It's very, very heavy and very humid," Murray said. "Sweating so much. . . . Both of us were trying to get white towels from the locker room because, you know, your hands were drenched. When I finished, it was like, you know, I'd been in a bath. It was very, very, very humid."

For the first 6 1/2 playing days, the roof had remained idle, even a joke as the traditional Wimbledon weather failed to materialize and a horrendous sunshine persisted. Then, at 4:40 p.m. Monday during the second set of Dinara Safina's three-set win over Amelie Mauresmo, there came a spot of steady rain, which in previous years seasoned Wimbledon fans would have pooh-poohed.

Eagerly, the All England Club pushed the roof button, and this gigantic accordion unfolded itself in all its humming, noiseless glory. The players returned after the necessary 30 minutes for unfolding and room-temperature adjustment, and by 5:19 p.m., indoor tennis at Wimbledon had begun, a prospect not generally considered during the first Wimbledon in 1877.

Mauresmo served, and Safina returned, and Mauresmo volleyed, and Safina passed Mauresmo, and a deeply trivial architectural history had occurred.

It can be hard to adjust to history, even the deeply trivial.

"It makes the conditions a little bit different," Mauresmo said. "It does. I would say the ball is flying a little bit more. . . . And then visually when the ball is in the air and when you have the overhead or stuff, it's very bright. It's really bright. But no, it's good."

Then, it seems, after the roof has hung around a while, the balls stop flying and start plunking. "You really swing very hard at the ball and it can, you know, go into the net or it doesn't really go anywhere," Murray said. "It's very different."

Within minutes of conceited debut, though, the roof showed a knack for butting into conversations, because the sky turned a lovely blue but the roof had to remain for the duration of the Safina-Mauresmo match.

Over on Court No. 1, outdoors, the American Andy Roddick continued his excellent showing with upbeat body language, blasting through Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic by 7-6 (4), 6-4, 6-3, and earning a freighted quarterfinal engagement with the 2002 champion, Lleyton Hewitt.

"Here is what I think about it," Roddick said of the roof as roof chatter reigned. "If it's raining, they have a pretty good little weather system forecast thingy down in the magic little office down there. They're always pretty good about giving updates. I say if it is even sprinkling at the time and it looks ominous, let's say there's a 20 or 30% chance, if you have a roof, I think you use it."

Would they open the roof for Murray-Wawrinka, the follow-up to Safina-Mauresmo? Would they keep it closed just so they could demonstrate its roofly magnificence?

Nobody knew for sure, including Murray and Wawrinka, informed just before they took the court about 6:30 that the roof would stay, presumably in case the match coursed into darkness.

Said Murray, gently: "I think in very few sports would coaches and teams be particularly happy if they don't know . . . what time they're going to start, or what the conditions are going to be like when they go out there."

Of a day whose winners also included Roger Federer in the midday sunshine in a taut three-set Centre Court scrape with fellow French Open finalist Robin Soderling, one match remained. Wawrinka excelled. Murray counterpunched. Almost four hours passed.

Sound thundered.

"It was a very nice atmosphere with the Centre Court and all the crowd for Andy Murray," said Wawrinka, the world's No. 18 player. "But I enjoy a lot the match."

Los Angeles Times Articles