New roof slams wet out of court

LONDON - Wimbledon's new multimillion-pound Centre Court roof did not make its debut at the Championships yesterday - with forecasters predicting only a 20percent chance of interruptions by rain.

LONDON - Wimbledon's new multimillion-pound Centre Court roof did not make its debut at the Championships yesterday - with forecasters predicting only a 20percent chance of interruptions by rain.

The first morning of the year's third Grand Slam was cloudy and cool with only a "slight risk of patchy light rain passing over the courts during the day", organisers said.

The honour of opening proceedings on the main show court at the All England Club fell to five-time champion Roger Federer, who faced Lu Yen-hsun of Taiwan, after titleholder Rafael Nadal pulled out with knee trouble on Friday.

In a country where the national obsession is talking about the weather, tennis fans will be lost for words on Wimbledon's hallowed Centre Court this year.

There will be no more rain-drenched spectators huddled under umbrellas, stoically sipping tea and waiting for the rain to stop. For the first time in its 87-year existence, Centre Court can be turned into an indoor arena thanks to a new retractable roof.

The cost has never been officially revealed but estimates run as high as £80 million (about R1,075billion) - the price of Real Madrid's bid for Manchester United's Portugal winger Cristiano Ronaldo.

Cynics have quipped that this was an awful lot of money for Wimbledon to spend just to silence Cliff Richard.

The British pop star famously serenaded the Centre Court crowd during a 1996 rain break with Martina Navratilova, Pam Shriver and Virginia Wade as his impromptu backing singers.

"No price is too high to silence Sir Cliff Richard," The Sunday Times concluded on the eve of Wimbledon 2009.

Once the roof is closed and the court dried out by a state-of-the-art humidity control system, play can now resume after a delay of just 40 minutes.

For organisers broadcasting the tournament to 185 countries around the world that is a huge plus. For the 15000 spectators in the newly expanded stands it is a priceless bonus.

Federer, the five-time champion, was stretched all over the court by Taiwan's Yen-hsun Lu before gliding to reach an angled volley and caressing a backhand winner down the line.

It was the kind of shot Federer has produced year after year at an event he has dominated since 2003 but his raised fist salute, a pose he held for several seconds, sent out a simple message - King Roger is back.

The 7-5 6-3 6-2 victory was routine enough, although no match involving the Swiss can ever be described as dull because they are laced with moments of sheer genius.

"There's always nerves in every first round match at Wimbledon. But I'm happy with my first round. I thought it was a solid performance, because that's what it took against Lu." ­ Reuters

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