With tempers raging on whether it was Roger Federer who won the Madrid Masters title by sending Rafael Nadal into submission or was it a tired Rafael Nadal who did not have enough in his legs to compete against his nemesis—it was worth a visit to the pristine Centre Court at Wimbledon yesterday.
It was an opening ceremony at the Centre Court with the newly added roof and the authorities wanted to see how the players could cope with the indoor conditions. Hundrerds of tonnes of iron girders were present over the roof and it needed a solid support structure. It would take approximately eight to nine minutes for the roof to close.
In addition to roof, authorities have also increased the seating capacity by 1500.
Four former champions, two male and two female players, were invited to play a set with their counter parts to check the conditions of play under closed roof. Hogging the limelight amidst 12,000 spectators were Andre Agassi, Steffi Graf, Tim Henman and Kim Clijsters.
Tennis' star couple Agassi/Graf took on Henman/Clijsters in the mixed doubles event. Most of the points were played in good spirit and it indeed looked like an exhibition match for most part. Agassi showed glimpses of his forehand shots and Henman showed his deft backhand volleys which are almost extinct in today's generation of players.
After a decent work out in the middle, the star couple lost the set in the tie-break to the British-Belgian pair.
Agassi/Graf pair smooched on more than two occasions in the one set they played and that prompted BBC commentator Sue Barker to put a question to Graf at the end of the set. "You were kissing a lot on the court," and Graf quipped, "That's what we always do."
The good spirit that the two teams played was quickly vanished when Agassi took on Henman for the singles event. They were smiling all during the match and after couple of games the determination to win the set was visible on Henman's face.
Agassi was rifling his forehands and showed Henman as to why it is not easy to win a rally against him. The sting in the shots and serves was there in both the players arsenal. The fluid backhand was missing in Henman's game and he opted to play slice backhands whenever possible. But the touch he showed at the net was exquisite.
The humidity perhaps was a little higher under the roof and Agassi was seen profusely sweating. The 39 year old American was solid on the forehand wing but was unable to chase down the balls barring a couple of times.
Henman was touch nervous to start the proceedings and as the match wore on, the grit to perform better against the 8 time Grand Slam champion was conspicuous. Agassi clearly seemed the better played even at this age and he claimed the set 6-4.
The Las Vegan resident raised his hands high after the victory and both the players cherished their stay on the Centre Court.
Steffi Graf was the first to serve and held her service game without a mess. Her high ball toss and the 'not-so pleasing to the eye but effective forehand' was very much intact. Kim Clijsters who wanted to make a comeback into women's tennis could not hold her opening service game and Graf was up with 2-0 lead over her younger counter part.
Graf was smiling but Clijsters was focussed not to lose the set to the 22 time Grand Slam champion. Clijsters plays the game quite fast compared to others and that did not give Graf the breathing space. Graf once went and sat beside one of the linesmen and was talking to him how close the ball was to the line, in an attempt to catch her breathe.
Clijsters got into her groove and snatched the set 6-4. After the match, Graf jokingly said, "I might, might just ask a Wild Card for the tournament again".
All the players were given mementos for their participation and were given a huge applause for the entertainment provided.
What's interesting to note was the English crowd was still firmly behind the local favorite who had a hill named after him. The loyalties were evident when someone shouted, "Come on Andre," back came the retort in no time, "Come on Tim!"