Tennis: Wimbledon's blueprint for the 21st century: A new No 1 Court is centrepiece of the All England Club's pounds 100m redevelopment. John Roberts reports

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The Independent Online
THE All England Club announced yesterday that it is ready to dress up for the 21st century. A new No 1 Court is planned as the first phase of a pounds 100m-plus redevelopment programme designed to preserve Wimbledon's status as the world's most prestigious tennis tournament.

After years pondering whether to relocate the championships, which have become increasingly cramped in SW19, the club has decided to utilise the existing grounds on Church Road, its home since 1922.

Tradition being paramount, it was emphasised that Wimbledon will continue to be played on grass courts, as the last oasis of the four Grand Slam tournaments. The point was also made that the project will be funded by the five-yearly issue of debentures and will not affect the annual profits handed to the Lawn Tennis Association for the development of the sport.

The club declined to estimate costs as a matter of policy, but the extent of the long-term building work involved plus the landscaping required to match the theme of the designers' romantic brief, 'Tennis in an English Garden', makes it one of British sport's most ambitious facelifts.

If planning permission is granted by the London Borough of Merton, the new all-seater, oval show court will be ready for use in three years. The capacity will be 11,500, whereas the exisiting No 1 Court, which backs on to the Centre Court, seats 6,500 and has standing room for 820.

When the new court is finished, work will begin on remodelling the Centre Court by extending the west side. This will increase the Centre Court seating capacity by 800 to 13,900. A new building, chiefly to house the players and the media, with underground links to the two main show courts, will take the place of the old No 1 Court.

The final stage of the scheme involves the development of the south side of the grounds, including a new No 2 Court, with temporary stands erected on hard courts. The current No 2 Court will become No 3 Court. This may add to the psychological problems of the leading players: No 2 Court is known as the 'graveyard of champions'.

To alleviate the situation in the interim, two new outside courts will be provided and seating capacity eventually will increase by 25 per cent. There will be fewer adjacent car parking areas, and visitors will be shuttled by a 'park and ride' system. Plans incorporate improvements in public transport, including the notion of a new tube station on the District Line. This is one of the items on what John Curry, the Wimbledon chairman, termed a 'wish list of the future'.

The club rejected the idea of fitting the new show court with a retractable roof similar to the one on the Centre Court at Flinders Park in Melbourne, the home of the Australian Open. 'This is an 18-court championships, not a one-court championships,' Curry said. Among various problems which arose when the question of a roof was discussed was the difficulty presented by a grass court (the ones in Melbourne are rubberised concrete) and the fact that Flinders Park, unlike the All England Club, is used as an indoor arena for sports events and concerts most weeks of the year.

The new No 1 Court, in common with the Centre Court, will be four storeys high. Three of the storeys will be used for catering, hospitality and merchandising. These will replace the amenities around the picnic area, which is the site the new court will occupy. This part of the grounds, known as Aorangi Park, was formerly the New Zealand Sports Club and was acquired by the All England Club in 1982 to provide more room during the championships. Aorangi means 'cloud in the sky'.

Wimbledon's first home, at Worple Road, was laid out in three terraces in 1870 at a cost of pounds 425 for the purpose of croquet. The first tennis championship (men's singles) was held there in 1877. According to legend, the tournament was organised to pay for a new roller. The event outgrew Worple Road during the Suzanne Lenglen era and is about to stretch again.

Though this was not mentioned on yesterday's 'wish list', British tennis would like to imagine that the Fred Perry statue will have a companion by the time the work is completed.

----------------------------------------------------------------- TIMETABLE FOR CHANGE ----------------------------------------------------------------- Stage One: New No 1 Court (assuming planning permission is granted). Will take three years from the start of work - the grass itself needs two years to grow. Stage Two: Construction of new facility buildings on site of the present No 1 Court. Stage Three: Development of south end area, with the construction of a new No 2 Court. Whole project will continue well into the next century. -----------------------------------------------------------------

(Illustrations omitted)

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