Wimbledon finally goes under cover

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The Independent Online

Maybe it was the sight of Cliff Richard peering into the grey skies, wondering perhaps whether his vocal services might be needed once more, that persuaded Wimbledon to make the historic decision to close its Centre Court roof yesterday for the first time.

Within five minutes of Amélie Mauresmo and Dinara Safina scampering off court as the first significant rain of the fortnight fell, the wheels on the retractable cover started rolling. Within eight minutes it was shut, although it was only then that a flustered announcer told the crowd that "the referee has decided to close the Centre Court roof". He added that play would resume "once the referee is closed".

On a day when most people were expecting a heatwave rather than rain, the shower was so brief that the players on the roofless Court One were back warming up before Mauresmo and Safina returned on Centre Court. Play restarted 40 minutes after the roof had started to close, which is exactly the delay that Wimbledon had anticipated, given that the air management system has to adjust the atmosphere inside the court to prevent condensation affecting the playing surface. When play resumed the air felt pleasantly cooler than it had been before the roof was shut.

Once the roof is closed it remains so for the duration of the match in progress. It can reopen later in the day, though the referee decided to keep it shut for last night's final match, between Andy Murray and Stanislas Wawrinka, because of the time of day and the possibility of more showers.

The canvas roof is 40 per cent translucent, which means that plenty of natural light enters the arena. Electric lighting, most of it bounced off the roof, supplements the natural light, ensuring that conditions for play are perfect.

Safina, who lost the first set but was leading 4-1 in the second when play was interrupted, won the first point played under a roof in the history of the Championships. The Russian also won the match, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4. Asked what it had been like under the roof, Safina said: "It was great. It was very nice. It's a really nice atmosphere playing under the roof because it makes the crowd sound louder."