Indoor tennis has come to Wimbledon.
The new retractable roof over Centre Court was closed for the first time Monday after light rain halted play during the second set of a match between No. 1-ranked Dinara Safina and 2006 Wimbledon champion Amelie Mauresmo. Oddly enough, by the time the match resumed, the wet weather had disappeared, and action proceeded on other courts around the grounds, no roof needed.
Still, the novelty of it all created quite a buzz. The roof is making its debut this year atop a stadium that opened in 1922 _ and at a tournament that began in the 1800s _ and this was the first rain delay of the fortnight after a sunny first week.
"It's a plus, definitely, for the tournament to be able to play. Of course, we haven't seen really bad days so far in the tournament," Mauresmo said after losing 4-6, 6-3, 6-4. "But I remember a few editions of Wimbledon when we would really have needed a roof. So it's a good thing."
The translucent roof allows in natural light, in addition to the floodlights that were switched on, and, really, the most discernible difference from the stands was the sound: There was an echo. Not just when a ball came off a racket with a "Thwack!" but also from hand-clapping or line judges' yells of "Out!"
Mauresmo noticed other ways in which the roof changed the court conditions.
"The ball is flying a little bit more. That's how I felt. And we both kind of took a little time to adjust," Mauresmo said. "When the ball is in the air, and when you have the overhead or stuff, it's very bright."
Safina lost the first set and was ahead 4-1 in the second when it began drizzling. The court was initially covered with a green tarp, Wimbledon's timeworn method for waiting for rain to subside so play can resume, before All England Club officials quickly decided to shut the roof.
Last week, on the hottest of days, organizers moved part of the roof ever-so-slightly to provide shade for those sitting in the Royal Box. This time, they closed it fully, and for the originally intended purpose: protection from Mother Nature's intrusions, which are generally so common that the event's official record book, "Wimbledon Compendium," contains sections called "Days which have been completely rained off" and "First weeks badly interrupted by rain."
"We've been waiting for it for so long _ it's the first time ever at Wimbledon somebody's waiting for rain _ but we'd still prefer the sunshine," the club's chief executive, Ian Ritchie, said while the roof was being closed. "It's a historic moment in many ways, and I'm sure they all feel delighted to be here. We'll be grateful if the sun comes back."
Well, the sun did reappear from behind the clouds, yet the roof remained shut during the next match on Centre Court, between No. 3 Andy Murray and No. 19 Stansislas Wawrinka, because the forecast called for later showers.
A little more than five minutes after Safina and Mauresmo were sent to the locker room when the rain started, the often-staid Wimbledon spectators began rhythmically clapping and chanting, "Roof! Roof! Roof!" Moments later, the floodlights were switched on, drawing cheers.
Soon, the white steel bars supporting the canvas roof were gliding, earning another round of applause and flickering camera flashes. Every so often, the operation paused, before the pieces resumed their journey. It took six minutes for the roof's two sections to slide into place, meeting in the middle at 4:46 p.m. When the thing was completely closed _ making the most hallowed arena in tennis look something like an airplane hangar, with all of those "V"-shaped support beams overhead _ the fans roared, many rising for a standing ovation. They also shut their now-unnecessary umbrellas.
Cool air filled the arena as a ventilation system kicked in to remove moisture from the air. While the scoreboards showed a documentary about the making of the roof, a voice over the loudspeakers announced at 5:10 p.m.: "The good news is, play is to resume on Centre Court round about two minutes from now."
Indeed, exactly two minutes later, Mauresmo and Safina stepped back onto the court. Mauresmo looked up and checked out the new setup.
Following the usual warmup players are given when returning from a rain delay, the match resumed at 5:19 p.m., 45 minutes after Safina and Mauresmo had left.
On the first point ever played indoors at a tournament first held in 1877, Safina hit a backhand passing winner down the line. Mauresmo hit a 110 mph ace on the next point and eventually added two more aces to win the game, but Safina went on to win a match that is sure to be noted forever in "Wimbledon Compendium."
"It was great. Very nice. You can't compare it with anything," Safina said. "It's a really nice atmosphere, especially with the crowd, because it's getting, like, louder, so it's even nicer to play. I mean I won, so everything was perfect."
Indoor tennis has come to Wimbledon.