Wimbledon celebrates millennium with newbuilding

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The Independent Online

Hard hats were compulsory at Wimbledon yesterday, and not only because women competitors were again denied equal prize-money. The media were given a guided tour of the Millennium Building on the site of the old No 1 Court, the latest part of the All England Club's £100m development project.

Due to be completed on 15 May and officially opened by the Duke of Kent on 20 June, the date of the draw for this year's Championships, the Millennium Building will provide new amenities for the players and the Press.

The new building is also likely to alter the atmosphere of the grounds with regard to the spectators' proximity to the players. Traditionally, spectators gather at the walkway barriers outside the main entrance to the clubhouse to watch their favourites as they arrive and leave by courtesy cars. This year, the players will be driven directly to the Millennium Building via Somerset Road.

Inside, the players will find new changing-rooms, a mini gymnasium, new interview rooms, a lounge and a restaurant with views over the southern courts.

To mark the fact that the 114th Championships will be held at the start of the new century, a parade of champions will take place on the Centre Court at 1pm on the middle Saturday, 1 July. Invitations were sent to all surviving singles champions, players who have won the men's, women's and mixed doubles four times or more, and those who have reached two or more singles finals.

The Duchess of Gloucester, honorary president of the Lawn Tennis Association, will present the players with a memento, and after the parade the champions and their partners will be seated in the Royal Box.

Of the 74 players invited, 67 have accepted. Jimmy Connors, the men's singles champion in 1974 and 1982, is among those who are not expected to be on parade. "We don't know why he can't come," a club spokesman said. Connors declined to parade with 41 surviving singles champions to mark the centenary Championships in 1977.

Bjorn Borg, who visited the All England Club out of season, will make his first appearance at Wimbledon during the Championships since 1980, when he won the last of his five consecutive singles titles. Roy Emerson, who shares with Pete Sampras the record of 11 Grand Slam singles titles, will take a day off from coaching in Switzerland to join the parade.

"A lot of these people played in the amateur days," Phillips said. "They didn't get as much out of the game as the pleasure they gave to us."

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