Night play a possibility for Wimbledon

Rafael Nadal and Venus Williams may have to defend their Wimbledon titles after dark under the Centre Court's new retractable roof, All England Club officials said today.

The roof will be operational for the first time when the tournament begins in June, guaranteeing play on the showcourt whatever weather is provided by the fickle English summer.



Breaks in play will not be eliminated, however, as the translucent roof, which weighs 1,000 tonnes, takes 10 minutes to close fully. Another 20 or 30 minutes are needed for the air management system to regulate humidity so that the lush turf does not become slippery and condensation drips down.



While the roof allows sufficient light for play in most conditions, a system of 120 lights means play can continue in fading light and when it is dark outside.



All England Club chief executive Ian Ritchie said there would be no planned night sessions like at the U.S. and Australian Opens but refused to rule out night-time play.



"We don't want to see night time tennis and we hope and believe that that the matches would finish in day time hours," he told reporters.



"But if they don't finish we will close (the roof) and finish them.



"We are well aware of the impact on local residents and the staff working here, but there is also an obligation for the people here in person who know we have the facility to use it and for the millions watching on television."



"The authorities have been very flexible and helpful in not insisting on a cut-off point."



Wimbledon is the most traditional of the four grand slam tournaments and Ritchie said the roof merely provided another option should the weather or bad light intervene.



"Wimbledon is a daytime, outdoor event and preference is always to play outdoors and if we can we will prefer to keep the roof open as much as possible," he said.



"But we need to provide consistent playing conditions for the players which is why if a match starts with it shut it will finish with it shut."



The roof is the final stage in the makeover of the 87-year-old Centre Court which will also have 1,200 extra seats this year, raising the capacity to 15,000.



The new-look Centre Court will get its first public appearance on May 17 when former champions Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf, together with Tim Henman and Kim Clijsters, take part in an exhibition match with the roof closed.



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