Roof may be option as officials seek to end delays

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The Independent Online

The All England Club said yesterday that it may consider bringing the start of play forward in future years to avoid the kind of delays that have led to today's men's singles final being held over until the third Monday of the Championships.

"I think there's a lot of ifs we could go over," Chris Gorringe, the chief executive of the Club, said after it was suggested to him that this year's problems, caused by rain, would have been avoided had play started at 11am, as opposed to midday on the outer courts and 1pm on the main show courts.

"I think it's probably not the time to look back," he added. "We have to look forward and manage the present. There will be plenty of time to review what's been happening in the last few days." Asked if earlier starting times were among solutions that could be considered, he said: "Sure."

Gorringe was speaking at a press conference where he announced the arrangements for ticket sales for today. Ten thousand unreserved Centre Court seats will be on sale, for £40 each, on a first-come, first-serve basis, from 9.30am. A further 5,000 ground tickets, at £10 each, will also be available. These will allow access to any other courts in play and to the Club's two giant screens, where action from the Centre Court is beamed.

"At the moment, we are holding back 3,000 reserved seats within the Centre Court," Gorringe said. "That is primarily for debenture holders who have a legal right for a seat, plus competitors, press, Royal Box members, the LTA, etc. If we don't use them all then obviously, hopefully, we can fill that up with fans."

While first-come, first-serve seating will mean that today's showpiece event will become known as a "People's Final", the Club warned yesterday that many fans could face disappointment. The queue for the ticket booth was hundreds strong by midday yesterday and it could be heading for capacity well before the booth actually opens.

The Club even issued a statement that said: "As there is no guarantee of entry and ground capacity has been reduced, those people living a long distance from the Club are advised not to come." Fans that do make the trip to SW19 were advised to bring cash to buy their tickets. Credit cards are not accepted because they are deemed too slow.

Asked why the Club could not have sold the tickets yesterday afternoon, thereby avoiding any need for an overnight shanty town on the pavement, Gorringe initially said the idea was rejected because of ticket touts. "If we sold the tickets today, anyone could go up and say 'I'll get a ticket' knowing full well they couldn't come the following day. Then you lose control."

He later added that the same-day sales policy was "to give people an opportunity to know a reasonable amount of time in advance what our plans are, what the pricing is... We don't want to change the way we manage things because that makes things complicated for the fans."

The Club has spoken over the weekend of measures that might be taken to avoid the Championships overrunning their allotted fortnight. One such measure is a retractable roof for Centre Court, although Tim Phillips, the Club chairman, said that micro-climate problems that might affect the grass were still an obstacle. He added, however, that a roof was still an option, "something we should consider".

"Physically you can build a roof. The issue is not whether structurally you can put one up." he said.

"The real issue is, if you put one up what does that micro-climate create in the way of dew on the playing surface? We've got top athletes who are trying to twist and turn on the grass.

"We are also concerned about the way the grass grows. We are doing tests on this, we've commissioned quite a lot of testing in the States.

"Until such time as we get total satisfaction that the micro-climate enclosed, that is being created, is going to be suitable for championship play, we wouldn't consider it."

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