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Tuesday, January 6
Updated: January 7, 2:37 PM ET
Wimbledon aims to bring end to delays

Associated Press

WIMBLEDON, England -- As synonymous with Wimbledon as strawberries and cream, rain delays on Centre Court will soon be a tradition consigned to the past.

Finally, after years of dithering, the All England Club announced Tuesday that it plans to build a retractable roof.

Players and spectators still will have to endure rain delays for several more years, however. The club needs to get planning permission, work will not start for two years, and the roof will not be in place until 2009.

It is the second recent departure from tradition at Wimbledon: Last year, the All England Club abandoned the custom of players curtsying or bowing to the Royal Box.

But the planned roof is generally considered a good idea.

"I am a traditionalist. I love Wimbledon for what it has always been and will always be to me," three-time champion Boris Becker said. "But I cannot be blind to the future. How can tennis survive if it has eight hours of live television space to fill and nothing is happening?"

Covering Centre Court probably will not help the tournament as a whole, because 19 other courts will remain uncovered. There are 650 matches played during the two weeks of Wimbledon, which this year runs from June 21 to July 4.

But it will give the tournament's 1.8 billion viewers worldwide something to watch other than water pooling on green tarps covering courts.

"When it does rain, it's very frustrating for everyone," All England Club chairman Tim Phillips said. "We have been mindful of this issue for a number of years, but we are very confident the unique Centre Court atmosphere will be maintained with the roof."

Rain has always been an obsession at Wimbledon -- the official statistics book even has a year-by-year summary of the weather during the tournament, dating to 1919.

Wimbledon has been extended 15 times because of rain, most recently in 2001, when Goran Ivanisevic beat Patrick Rafter in the men's final on a Monday.

Only six tournaments have been unaffected by rain since 1908. Since 1877, rain has completely washed out 30 days of action.

The All England Club, which receives no public money, will not say how much the new roof will cost. Funding will be drawn from the club's bonds, which are issued every five years.

The club will consider covering Court One if things go well on Centre Court, Phillips said.

The roof is designed by HOK Architects, responsible for building stadiums around the world, including baseball stadiums in cities such as Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati.

The hydraulic roof will measure 213 feet by 230 feet and will take 10 minutes to close. The roof works on a principle similar to an umbrella, with metal ribs supporting a translucent fabric expected to last 20 years and not wear at the folds.

A solid, sliding roof was rejected because of a lack of storage space and an overhang that would cast shadows over neighboring courts.

Lobbed balls will not be a problem -- the roof will be 55 feet high.

The temperature underneath the roof will be 77 degrees, with humidity at 50 percent.

Also, the existing overhang will be reduced so more sunlight shines on the surface -- meaning better quality grass.

Floodlights will be installed on the 10 steel trusses supporting the fabric of the roof, allowing long-running matches to finish.

"But this has been designed for rain during the day," Phillips said. "It is not our intention to have an evening session."

Centre Court was built in 1922 and additions were constructed on the sides of the building in the 1970s and 1980s. The roof cannot be built until the Wimbledon museum, ticket counters and offices are moved to free up space.

The seating capacity will be increased by 1,200 to 15,000.

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