Wimbledon roof wows former stars

LONDON: Grand Slam golden couple Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf gave Wimbledon Centre Court's new retractable roof the superstar seal of approval on Sunday.

The roof will cheer players and fans across the globe who have long had to endure London's famously wet summers playing havoc with the tournament's scheduling.

On Sunday, right on cue, it rained. But under the new, translucent roof, 15,000 people couldn't care less as Agassi, Graf, Tim Henman and Kim Clijsters, who is fine-tuning her game ahead of a comeback, played a light-hearted exhibition to mark the occasion.

With the court covered, rain delays will be a thing of the past when this year's Wimbledon starts on June 22.

The roof, which will allow natural light to continue to shine on the grass below and has also been fitted with floodlights, will take 10 minutes to close although there will be a further delay of 30 minutes for moisture levels to be given the all-clear.

"I don't think I've ever smiled so much on a tennis court," said Agassi who, won the first of his Grand Slam titles here in 1992.

"I was impressed with how solid it felt and the sound was magnificent. When you get two people out there who can really play then you'll get a titanic battle, the sort you've not seen yet." Graf, whose last match on Centre Court was 10 years ago, said: "I've been so nervous. It was special. A real treat to be on court." Henman, a four-time Wimbledon semi-finalist, was also a fan of the new-look court, where capacity had also been boosted by an extra 1,200 seats.

"It was such a real treat to play in those conditions when it was so cold, miserable and wet outside," said the Briton.

"I've had some great experiences but with 15,000 people in that enclosed space I'm intrigued to see what levels the atmosphere could go to." Five-time Wimbledon champion Roger Federer, who on Sunday won the Madrid Masters title, sent a video message to the All England Club.

"So often we just wait around (during rain delays)," said Federer. "I know that can be fun too, but maybe after a few days you want to see a match. For me it's nice to see that Wimbledon is taking such a big step in the right direction." For the record, Henman and Clijsters beat Agassi and Graf 7-6 in the mixed doubles while Agassi beat Henman 6-4 in the singles, with Clijsters beating Graf 6-4.