PICTURE SPECIAL: Wimbledon raises roof and prize money as new Centre Court is unveiled at SW19

By Sportsmail Reporter Last updated at 5:45 PM on 21st April 2009

Defending champions Rafael Nadal and Venus Williams cannot fail to be impressed when they walk on to Centre Court to defend their Wimbledon titles in eight weeks’ time.

For a start, they will receive a bumper pay rise of £100,000 – taking home £850,000 each, a 13.3per cent increase on 2008 – if they can lift the singles crowns for a second year running.

And they will find a Wimbledon championship and a refurbished Centre Court arena, with its new state-of-the-art roof, that is defying the deepest recession in a century.

Enlarge Chief groundsman Eddie Seaward admires the new roof on Centre Court

Raising the roof: Chief groundsman Eddie Seaward admires the new roof on Centre Court

Wimbledon will not put a figure on the cost of the new retractable roof, which was unveiled in a closed position for the first time, revealing a surprisingly light, plush and airy arena, even if the white metal trusses and the fabric concertina do not exactly conform to tradition.

CENTRE COURT’S NEW ROOF

  • The roof takes 10 minutes to close
  • It is 16 metres above the court surface
  • The maximum time before play can start or continue after the roof is closed and the internal environment stabilised is 30 minutes
  • 43 miles per hour – the wind speed up to which the roof can be deployed/retracted
  • The span of the moving roof trusses is 77 metres
  • And the weight of each of the 10 trusses is 100 tonnes
  • 1,200 extra seats have been installed
  • The combined weight of the roof is 3,000 tonnes
  • It would take 7,500 Wimbledon umbrellas to cover the same area as the roof
  • 290 million tennis balls could fit in Centre Court with the roof closed

Tennis fans, however, have already voted with their wallets. Applications for Wimbledon’s public ballot are 20per cent up on last year, while all 15,000 tickets sold out within five minutes for the May 17 test event when the roof will be closed and air-conditioning tested in a mini-tournament involving Tim Henman, Andre Agassi, Steffi Graf and Kim Clijsters, which will be screened on BBC2.

The roof is bound to be the subject of most attention, although Wimbledon have no plans to play night matches, as in New York and Melbourne, nor to shut the roof unless entirely necessary.

Ian Ritchie, chief executive of the All England Club, said: “We’d prefer to play outdoors. If we can, we would prefer to keep the roof open as much as possible.

“But, if we start with it shut, we will finish with it shut. The opening and closing is at the discretion of the referee, as at other grand slams.”

The structure takes around 10 minutes to close but it takes 40 minutes or so to stabilise the crucial airflow system, which means some potentially tricky decisions for tournament referee Andrew Jarrett. Such as whether to start with the roof closed if rain is forecast for later in the afternoon.

The revamped arena stands next to Court 1 (left)

Spectacular: The revamped arena stands next to Court 1 (left)

And whether to pull on the covers and sit out a potentially minor delay, or close the roof immediately if light rain interferes with a match. Ritchie, however, is confident Jarrett, a former Davis Cup player, can cope.

‘It’s Andy’s fourth year and we are absolutely confident in him,’ said Ritchie. ‘We have the bodies with more than enough experience when it comes to closing the roof. Now we’ve got it, it’s a racing certainty we’ll have 13 days of sunshine this year anyway.’

A Wimbledon official admires the renovated Centre Court at SW19

Standing guard: A Wimbledon official admires the renovated Centre Court at SW19

The roof will allow all Centre Court matches to be completed on the day and there is no restriction on what time play can finish. So, theoretically, a five-set men’s singles starting at 7pm could go on past 11pm.

Wimbledon chairman Tim Phillips also insisted there were no plans to use Wimbledon for other events such as concerts, which have been blamed partly for the problems encountered with the pitch at Wembley.

The new roof will save spectators and players from the elements at this year's Championships in June

All covered: The new roof will save spectators and players from the elements at this year’s Championships in June

Head Wimbledon groundsman Eddie Seaward

Vested interest: Head Wimbledon groundsman Eddie Seaward

Lights to promote grass growth are located on Centre Court, and Phillips said: “It is difficult to say never but the Centre Court is unique in the sporting world and our intention is to go on using it just for tennis.”

The chairman also denied there were any plans to rip up the famous Wimbledon grass to fall in line with other grand slam surfaces.

He said: “The game is lawn tennis. It was invented as lawn tennis. We have got the inclination, the time and the resources to prepare the grass properly. “In this day and age, when players are complaining about the wear and tear of hard courts and there are already a load of tournaments on clay, it is important to continue to remember our heritage and support grass.”

He also defended the hike in prize money, which sees the total pot increase by 6.2per cent to £12.55million, with the biggest increases of 13.3per cent going to those who reach the last eight, but even first-round singles losers taking home £10,750.

Phillips said: “It is the name players who drive interest in Wimbledon and in tennis. We are an international tournament and tennis is an international sport. “We have to be mindful that this time last year the exchange rate was two (US) dollars to the pound and now it is under one and a half to the pound.”

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