The History of Wimbledon’s Centre Court Roof

In the prestigious South West London postcode area of SW19, one of world sport’s most prestigious arenas sits serenely away from the hustle and bustle of the busy capital.

The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, known simply as Wimbledon after the championships that are held there every year, is now a sprawling complex of 19 grass tennis courts (as well as a number of clay, acrylic and indoor courts), despite being founded as the All England Croquet Club in 1868.

Wimbledon Retractable Roof

As the venue slowly developed into the centre of the tennis world, with the grand slam era elevating its status across the globe, constant adaptations over the proceeding century were made to the courts and its surrounding facilities. From ensuring that only the finest perennial rye grass is used on the courts (from 2001 onwards) to the ongoing growth of the central ‘show courts’, the effort that goes into putting on the annual tournament is substantial.

However, one of the main thorns in the side of Wimbledon over the years has been something that its vast team of organisers and officials have no control over: the ever unreliable British weather.

This caused a number of issues for players, staff and fans alike, and often saw many frustrating delays, with some finals even having to be finished on the Monday following the traditional Sunday.

The solution was to fit a retractable roof over the Centre Court – something that sporting arenas in other countries had long incorporated into their designs, particularly in America where roofs have been used since the mid-20th century. Work to build an additional roof over Wimbledon’s secondary court (No. 1 Court) is due to be completed by 2019.


The Solution to British Rain

The UK began to catch up with the opening of the new Wembley Stadium in 2007, complete with retractable covering, and the home of world tennis was finally given a roof over its head a couple of years later in 2009.

First used during a match between Dinara Safina and Amélie Mauresmo at that year’s tournament, the first time a full game was played underneath the roof was a thrilling 4th round match between Andy Murray and Stanislas Wawrinka, which allowed the game to go on until 22.38 at night.


Roofing Structure

The roof itself weighs in at a massive 1,000 tonnes, making opening and closing it a complex task. It’s impressive that only 8-10 minutes are required to cover the playing surface, with the concertina design stretching out 16 metres above the court.

Made from a type of durable and translucent fabric, the roof allows sufficient natural light to enter, although the advanced air management system that’s required to ensure that conditions are kept the same needs a further 20-30 minutes to do its job. During this time, the infamous Centre Court covers will need to be used, meaning this method of protection against the elements isn’t quite obsolete yet!

Although the amount of light that can make it through the roof is adequate enough to continue play, the specialised HD cameras that now cover high profile tennis tournaments require increased illumination levels, and additional lighting is incorporated within the roof structure itself.

Posted on 19 June 2014 in Wimbledon Roof.

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