How the New Wimbledon Roof Works

No more rain delays!

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Rain delays can be pretty irritating for tennis players and fans alike. Wimbledon is particularly subject to the whimsy of British weather, and matches are often played in fits and starts. Remember last year's epic Wimbledon final? Rafael Nadal dethroned five-time Wimbledon winner Roger Federer in four hours and 48 minutes; the battle was the longest men's championship match in Wimbledon history, no thanks to two frustrating rain delays. Weather delays inevitably affect the quality of tennis, especially when players are on the court for mere minutes and are then forced to take a break until the following day. Who really wants that?

Wimbledon has heard the call of many, and today it unveiled the Centre Court's new retractable roof. The concertina-style roof—which allows it to be folded into a compressed area when it's not being used—is made of a translucent water-proof fabric. It will take about 10 minutes to close and another 20-30 minutes for the air management system to ensure that the grass doesn't become slippery.

The roof, which took three years to build, will be used in public for the first time on May 17. Ex-Wimbledon champs Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf, as well as British favorite Tim Henman and Belgium's Kim Clijsters will play mixed doubles, men's singles, and women's singles matches.

Here's how the roof works, courtesy of the All England Lawn Tennis Club:

  • Fabric (Tenara) is a special waterproof structural material that is very strong, highly flexible and at 40% translucent is not transparent for players/spectators but will let in natural light. Around 5,200 square meters of fabric are used.
  • A key element of the design allows natural light to reach the grass—brought about by recontouring the fixed roof.
  • An airflow system removes condensation from within the bowl to provide good court surface conditions conducive to the playing of tennis when the roof is closed.
  • The roof is divided into two sections, with a total of nine bays of tensioned fabric—four bays in one section and five in the other. Each of the nine bays of tensioned fabric is clamped on either side to prismatic steel trusses. There are 10 trusses spanning approximately 77 meters across the court. The ends of each truss are supported by a set of bogies that move along parallel tracks positioned at either side within the new 'fixed' roof.
  • In preparation for closing the roof, one section is parked in its folded state at the north end of the court while the other is parked at the south end.
  • The coordinated electromechanical movement moves the trusses apart and, at the same time, unfolds and stretches out the fabric between the trusses over the court until the two sections meet in an overlapping seam above the middle of the court.
  • The arch shape to the tops of the trusses helps the structure to withstand their own dead weight and loading from elements such as snow and wind when the roof is stretched and closed over the court.
  • The roof has been designed to close in a maximum of 10 minutes. If the roof is being closed for rain, court covers will protect the grass in the usual way while closure is in progress.
  • After the roof has been closed, play can resume after a period of around 30 minutes, depending on climatic conditions.