Wimbledon Letter: Fans must grin and bear it when the rain falls

Plans to put roof on No 1 Court will improve lot of paying public

On Wednesday morning when officials opened the gates of the All England Club the usual ritual unfolded. A few stewards holding plastic chains across the walkways at each gate slowly paced towards the wider areas of the ground with thousands of fans patiently walking behind.

Nobody broke for cover to claim a prime spot on Henman Hill or their chosen court. Somewhat surreally thousands of fans obeyed what a voice booming out over the public address was telling them – to walk slowly for safety reasons behind the plastic chain.

At that stage it was beginning to rain. But in they came. On Tuesday when play was cancelled due to rain at 6.20pm no fewer than 37,987 people had come in. On Monday the number was 40,403. By the end of the tournament the total will be close to half a million fans and in 2009 it exceeded that, the figure reaching 511,043 for 13 days of tennis.

Those who arrived for Day 3 saw a few games on outside courts before the covers were pulled. The public announcement told them more rain was on the way and there would be a weather update at 2.30pm, 3.30pm and then at 4.30pm. Fans had been in the grounds since 11.00am.


The lucky ones with tickets for Centre Court, no more than 14,979, the stadium’s capacity, began their day with third seed Agnieszka Radwanska from Poland beating Ukrainian Kateryna Kozlova 6-2, 6-1 in 63 minutes.

The women's match had the feel of a crowd warm-up event for Novak Djokovic's second-round match against Adrian Mannarino, which in turn was a teaser for the main event, Roger Federer against British journeyman Marcus Willis.

But outside 20,000 or so people were walking around the site in circles, eating, drinking, taking pictures and under umbrellas watching the live match on a big screen at Henman Hill.

Sometimes Wimbledon asks a lot from its paying customers, although many are pleased to have gotten tickets and accept the weather, which is enshrined in the All England Club’s view of what tennis should be.

In the list of protocols for using the roof it simply and clearly states that “The Championships is an outdoor, daytime event.” That is a fundamental premise that they hold dear with television constraints probably the main reason for the original Centre Court roof.

“Therefore in good weather the roof will only be used when darkness is imminent,” say the protocols.

But one of the first projects identified by what the organisers are dramatically calling their Master Plan is the opportunity to improve No 1 Court by installing a new fixed and retractable roof.

It will, like Centre Court, allow for uninterrupted play irrespective of the weather, thereby guaranteeing covered tennis for around 27,000 spectators on the two main show courts. It is expected to be in place for the 2019 tournament.

That will leave around 13,000 wandering around the walkways, emptying their purses and wallets into the souvenir shops that this year will bump up profits to around €70 million over two weeks.

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson is a sports writer with The Irish Times