Wimbledon 97: Dreekmann is man to raise the roof

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The Independent Online
The name Hendrik Dreekmann probably means little, if anything, to those who huddled beneath umbrellas in the grounds of the All England Club yesterday.

A glance at the programme conveys that the 22-year-old German, ranked No 78, is due to play Pete Sampras in the second round when normal service resumes in SW19. But in Halle, Westfalen, Dreekmann is acknowledged as the player who put a roof on lawn tennis.

Initially, Gerry Weber, the German fashion designer, and a business associate became so frustrated trying to book indoor courts that they decided to build their own. Weber and his friends used the courts for their own amusement, and then a letter arrived from Dreekmann's father, Jurgen, explaining that the boy was a promising player who could not get coaching locally.

Hendrik was invited to play on the courts, and Weber hired a coach, Ion Geanta, to train a small squad of juniors. Dreekmann made impressive progress, and the coach told Weber that the youngster needed to be able to play and practice on outdoor courts.

Weber purchased land from a local farmer, and built outdoor courts with clay or concrete surfaces. Dreekmann won national junior titles, was runner- up in the European championships and a semi-finalist at the Orange Bowl in Florida.

Encouraged by this, Weber was persuaded to promote tournaments at his tennis complex, graduating to satellite and challenger events on the ATP Tour. Weber then decided to apply for mainstream Tour status.

Offered a date two weeks before Wimbledon, he elected to convert the courts to grass to help competitors prepare for the world's most prestigious championships and engaged a former All England Club groundsman. Weber also built a stadium court with a retractable roof. "The reason for the Halle tournament is Hendrik Dreekmann," Weber says.

While wishing Weber and his roof well, the All England Club decline to put a roof on the Centre Court. Nor did they design a roof for the new No 1 Court. Wimbledon, they point out, is an 18-court tournament, not a one-court event.

Dreekmann, incidentally, has played Sampras once previously, the American winning in straight sets on a concrete court in Switzerland last year.