Paul Newman: TV producers will seek a repeat as viewing figures go through roof
Saturday night's viewing figures peaked at 8m
The closest you could imagine the Wimbledon crowd resorting to a riot would probably involve nothing more than the throwing of a few over-ripe strawberries, but the sigh of relief from All England Club officials when Marcos Baghdatis missed a forehand on match point here at 11.02pm on Saturday night was probably as loud as the cheers that greeted Andy Murray's victory.
If Baghdatis had won that game the two men would almost certainly have had to return this afternoon to complete their third-round match, which would have prompted an interesting reaction from the crowd who had been enjoying the late-night thriller.
Wimbledon's licence, granted by the London Borough of Merton, allows matches to be played until 11pm. The All England Club is situated in a residential area – unlike, for example, the stadiums at the Australian and US Opens, where play can continue under lights until the small hours – and the local authority would not want 15,000 spectators spilling on to the streets late at night. The generators that control the air-management system under the Centre Court roof are also situated near local housing and would be a noise nuisance late at night.
While Merton Council accepts the need to be "reasonably flexible" with timing, the All England Club would jeopardise future relations with the authority, and possibly the annual re-issuing of its late licence, if it blatantly flouted the 11pm agreement.
One of the reasons for Saturday's late finish was the 35-minute break as the roof was closed and the atmosphere within the stadium stabilised. That time could have been saved if the roof had been shut before the start of the match, but the All England Club rightly wants Wimbledon to remain an outdoor, day-time tournament.
The roof is used only if there is rain or if bad light would otherwise have stopped play.
It remained shut throughout Friday's play, when it remained largely dry, because rain had been forecast. There will no doubt come a time when disgruntled players and spectators are sent home in mid-match late at night, but it should be remembered that outdoor tournaments throughout the world fall victim to the weather. This year's French Open and the last four US Opens have all finished on a Monday because of rain.
The Centre Court roof should prevent that ever happening at Wimbledon, but it will remain a fact of life that there will always have to be a cut-off time. The roof has merely extended that deadline by a couple of hours, as well as allowing play during rain. While the roof is a welcome addition to the SW19 landscape, playing under it changes the whole dynamics of a match as players no longer have to deal with wind or changing temperatures.
It needs to be used only when the weather or light would otherwise prevent play. Wimbledon, thankfully, has no plans for scheduled night sessions.
However, with Saturday's night's TV audience for the match peaking at 8m (41.3 per cent of the audience share), we can expect broadcasters to press for that to change in the future.
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