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How The Roof Turned Wimbledon Into Post-Watershed Entertainment | Wimbledon 2022

Oe learned a lot about Wimbledon during this centenary celebration of the club’s legendary Center Court, the scene of more 20th-century sports dramas than any arena outside of Madison Square Garden.

Tennis, in general, has been reliably sublime, hitting repeat highs. The commentary oscillated between ooh-aah Iga, ta-ra and, holy shit, Nick is back. McEnroe has gone from gray to white, and Sue’s face could still crack entirely smiling at her old jokes in her goodbye fortnight. Billie Jean has been an enduring queen. And the weather hasn’t been… terrible.

But the air, as always, has been fraught with impending inconvenience, especially towards the end of long days as the clouds gather, the rain spits a bit, the center court lights start to shine and the 56,000 square feet of fabric forming the largest umbrella in town rumbles into place on the hallowed turf that a hundred years ago hosted Suzanne Lenglen’s uncovered anarchy. The French iconoclast would have had a lot to say about the French Federation putting a roof over his eponymous court at Roland Garros – and considered it sacrilege at Wimbledon.

The roof is a mechanical marvel, of course, the material chosen “because of its ability to repeatedly flex and bend without cracking” – which, by the end of the first week, looked like the All England Club s apologizing for turning an outdoor jamboree of strawberries and drop shots into an invitation to end the night quietly under a big tent before your parents come home.

However, Sally Bolton, the club’s chief executive, was in no mood to apologize on Monday. While Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic have led complaints about the tournament being stealthily turned into a nighttime event, Bolton sees it as an inevitable compromise.

Admittedly, juggling so many matches, looking to expand the big stage among major contenders and satisfying local and international television demands is always tricky.

“The reality of hosting a tennis event is that once you start the day, you have no idea when the day is going to end,” she pointed out. Fair enough.

“The matches are long and short,” she added, “so it’s quite unpredictable. We’ve seen some matches get delayed this year. We’re thinking about that in the scheduling process, but we’re not going to certainly not switch to night sessions, I’m certainly not looking for players to play late – but of course at the other Grand Slams they play much later in the evening.

Dinara Safina (left) and Amélie Mauresmo score the very first point under the roof of center court in 2009. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

Yet it is this very impotence in time and circumstances that undermines his logic. While the All England Club might say they don’t want a nightly tournament, that’s exactly what they’ve got – just like they did at Melbourne, Flushing Meadows and Roland Garros. Except that these majors don’t apologize.

Wimbledon clings to a glorious past, while struggling to come to terms with an often difficult present.

The memorable 2008 final between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal was the last before the roof went up. The rain ensured the start at 2:35 p.m., more than half an hour late. Two more downpours interrupted the almost unbearable drama, which ended in the Spaniard’s favor in near darkness at 9:15 p.m., an epic finale that was nearly spoiled by the elements out of control.

So the roof, which had been under construction since 2006, was viewed with slight curiosity by traditionalists and the rest of us, and smiled upon by the All England Club when it was first put into action at 4:40 p.m. on Monday, June 29. 2009, during the fourth round match between Amélie Mauresmo and Dinara Safina.

It has been widely hailed as a necessary and forward-looking innovation. This match, however, ended quickly and did not inconvenience the locals. It looked like Wimbledon (still more adventurous than the club’s image suggests) had pulled off another shot.

It wasn’t until Murray (who would later employ Mauresmo as coach) and Stan Wawrinka finished their fourth-round match under cover at 10:38 p.m. – minutes later than Djokovic’s longer-than-expected fourth-round win over Tim van Rijthoven on Sunday Night – that some of us wondered: was this going to be the norm?

Those concerns were heightened the following year when Djokovic’s game against Olivier Rochus ended at 10:58 p.m. – and Merton’s council confirmed there was a 11 p.m. curfew. It seemed like the fun was gone from the new toy.

Since then, the roof has alternately been a useful fallback and a hidden villain, a reason to question the demands of the modern sports-entertainment industry. The BBC, you can be sure, is thrilled when it hears the engines roar overhead.

Yet for all its obvious usefulness, the roof will never be truly loved. It’s the e-bike parked next to the old banger in the garage: used for function rather than pleasure.

Wimbledon was meant to be played in the fresh air, with a hint or even a cascade of sunshine. Although we live in a climate more conducive to bog snorkeling, many of us are not happy to bury memories of great tennis against the glowing firmament – however fleeting and unreliable those memories may be. .