18 MAY 2009

The days of rain stopping play for hours during vital Wimbledon tennis showdowns became a thing of the past at the weekend with the inauguration of the All England Club's Centre Court roof.

Stars from the worlds of sport and entertainment were at the celebration, which preceded an exhibition match of doubles that pitted tennis couple Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf against Tim Henman and Belgian player Kim Clijsters.

The husband-and-wife team lost out to their opponents but clearly enjoyed every moment of being on the court, exchanging a kiss as the end of the match.

Amazingly the heavens did open before the match, just in time for the high-tech sliding roof be closed to protect the court. As Welsh opera star Katherine Jenkins and Britain's Got Talent star Faryl Smith sang Amazing Grace it whirred into action, its two sections clicking shut less than ten minutes later without a hitch accompanied by huge cheers from the crowd.

Those among the some 15,000 spectators raising their eyes skyward to see the biggest change in Wimbledon history since the centre court was built 87 years ago were three-times Wimbledon champ Boris Becker and Scottish tennis star Andy Murray. Roger Federer was also there.

"It's nice to see that Wimbledon is taking such a big step in the right direction," said the Swiss sportsman, who has won the tournament five times.

The multi-million pound cover, which has been three years in the making, will go into action during prolonged outbreaks of rain. Once it's fully closed the ventilation system needs about 30 minutes to extract moisture from the air and establish the right conditions for play.

Photo: PA
It was the biggest moment in the history of the Wimbledon venue as Centre Court's multi-million pound roof clicked into place for the first time
Photo: PA
Tennis husband-and-wife team Steffi Graff and Andre Agassi snatch o kiss during a special celebratory exhibition match against Tim Henman and Belgian player Kim Clijsters
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