Henman raises the roof at Wimbledon

Briton joins Agassi, Graf and Clijsters as new addition passes first test with aplomb

For the first time in the All England Club's history, rain fell and Wimbledon smiled. With a cold wind bringing frequent showers, yesterday brought the sort of afternoon that has driven club officials to distraction in the past, but this was the day when Wimbledon unveiled its new retractable Centre Court roof, arguably the club's most daring innovation in the 132 years since Spencer Gore, having paid his one guinea entrance fee along with 21 other competitors, won the first men's singles championship.

Only when the roof is used for the first time at next month's championships will it be possible to pass a more definitive judgement but, after yesterday's test event, Cliff Richard singalongs and endless TV replays of the McEnroe-Borg tie-break will now join white balls and wooden rackets in Wimbledon's past.

Andre Agassi, Steffi Graf, Tim Henman and Kim Clijsters delighted a 15,000 crowd with three hours of knockabout tennis, but it was their verdict on the conditions that will have pleased the All England Club the most.

''I was a little worried that with the roof closed there might be a bit of moisture and the court would be a bit slippery, but I was really impressed with how solid it felt,'' Agassi said.

''The sound was magnificent. I think when you get two people out there who can really play and move and hit the ball, you will see titanic battles of the sort we've never seen before, and I say that even considering last year's final. It's an environment that lends to some spectacular tennis."

Henman added: ''It's been a real treat to play in the conditions inside when it's been so miserable, cold, wet and windy outside."

Solid roofs like those at the Australian Open can make a tournament feel just like any other indoor event, whereas one of the great benefits of Wimbledon's fabric cover is that it is 40 per cent translucent, allowing in plenty of natural light. Extensive artificial lighting is also used, but unless you look upwards you can be forgiven for thinking that the court is still open to the elements.

Wimbledon said that it would take up to 10 minutes for the roof to close, but it was shut within seven as the 10 steel trusses pulled across the 5,200 square metres of waterproof Tenara.

An equally impressive part of the operation is the new air management system, which regulates the atmosphere inside the stadium and ensures there is no condensation, which is essential to player safety and the state of the grass. There was a 44-minute gap between the roof beginning to close and play starting. Inside it felt like a classic English summer's day.

Ian Ritchie, Wimbledon's chief executive, said: ''It was interesting to get the feedback from everybody who played on court because the humidity and the air control was one of the big issues for us. We'll get a lot of data to see how it's all performed, but the feedback we already have technically is that it worked extremely well."

Yesterday's three one-set matches saw Henman and Clijsters win the mixed doubles 7-6. Agassi earned revenge in his singles against Henman, clinching his fourth match point to win 6-4 with a vintage forehand pass.

Clijsters, who will rejoin the tour this summer following the birth of her baby last year, wrapped up the afternoon with a 6-4 victory over Graf, who looked in exceptional shape considering that, at 39, she has not played competitively for 10 years. At Graf's last Wimbledon, in 1999, the second Tuesday was completely rained off. That, we can be sure, will not be happening again.

Right as rain: Vintage matches defined by delays

Andre Agassi's first-round match with Grant Connell in 1991 was not completed until the sixth day due to persistent stoppages for rain

*2001 semi-final: Goran Ivanisevic beat Tim Henman 7-5, 6-7, 0-6, 7-6, 6-3. This was the closest Henman ever came to reaching the Wimbledon final. The Briton was leading by two sets to one when rain intervened. When they resumed the following day Ivanisevic took the fourth set, but the skies opened once again. The match ended on a third day.

*2008 final: Rafael Nadal beat Roger Federer 6-4, 6-4, 6-7, 6-7, 9-7. A match acclaimed as Wimbledon's greatest. Federer was in danger of losing in straight sets when rain started to fall in the third. Federer looked sharper after an 80-minute break and took the third and fourth sets. At 2-2 in the final set there was another break, after which Nadal secured his victory at 9.15pm.

Mia Freedman, editorial director of the Mamamia website, reads out a tweet she was sent.
Arts and Entertainment
The write stuff: masters of story-telling James Joyce, left, and Thomas Hardy
books...begging to differ, John Walsh can't even begin to number the ways
Jose Mourinho on Sky Sports
footballEXCLUSIVE COLUMN Paul Scholes: It was not a leg-breaking tackle, as the Chelsea manager had claimed
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower