Wimbledon goes for innovation
Centre court has a make-over while new initiatives appear at the All England Club.
Last Modified: 20 Jun 2007 08:37 GMT

Topless: The centre court at Wimbledon will be without a roof for the first time since 1922 [GALLO/GETTY]

Since Amelie Mauresmo and Roger Federer lifted two of the world's most coveted tennis trophies on centre court at Wimbledon last year, 300 builders, four tower cranes, countless diggers, lorries and power tools have turned the All England Club into a huge, muddy building site and then back into an international sporting venue.
The reconstruction is part of a three-year project to modernise facilities, add a retractable roof to the Centre Court playing area so action will not stop for rain, build a new sunken Court Two and revamp other courts.

"Could be windy," Mauresmo said, as she surveyed the new-look centre court which looks a completely different arena without its roof.

Part of centre court was reduced to its foundations, but builders knew they had a deadline to get the stadium up and running and above all, protect the pristine playing surface, for the championships which start on June 25.

"It will be the only time since 1922 there hasn't been a roof at all," Ian Ritchie, Wimbledon chief executive, told Reuters last week.

"It'll be very different both to play and to visit as a spectator."

Ritchie believes one of the attractions of centre court was the enclosed feel with the roof covering most seating areas, however this year, he suggested, the atmosphere might be more informal.

By 2008, spectators will again be under cover and in 2009 the moving roof over the court will be installed.

Tradition and innovation

Organisers will be hoping for clear skies for the
duration of the tournament [GALLO/GETTY]

Ritchie had high enthusiasm for the building project, for the tennis, and for the institution that is the championships.

"Our view is that if you are a bit of an iconic sporting venue, if you keep the facilities the same you go backwards.

"The balance for us always is between tradition and innovation," said Ritchie.

"There are some things that are sacrosanct: We'll always play on grass; we believe it's right for people to wear mostly white; we believe there shouldn't be too much advertising around the place.

"That does not mean keeping a load of 1922 facilities. In some ways we are in quite a competitive market, particularly in the UK.

"There's a new Wembley, a new Ascot, a new Emirates Stadium at Arsenal, a rebuilt Twickenham," he added.

"We take very seriously wanting to be at the top of the pile."

Flawless courts

One innovation that will add innovation to tradition is the introduction of Hawkeye, the electronic line-call tracker, to be used for the first time, though only on centre court.

"If the technology is there you should use it," Ritchie said.

"I'd hate somebody to win a match or lose a match on a bad call."

Much will remain the same, however, with the courts looking flawless before the first players set foot on the hallowed turf.

"The head groundsman is really pleased because he thinks centre court is in better condition than before," Ritchie said.

"It's had more wind and more sun, more air."

Weather is a constant preoccupation at Wimbledon and this year centre court spectators will be more aware of it than ever.

With the retractable roof in two years' time they will not have to worry.

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