Those sullen clouds, the ones indigenous to London and an oft-maligned target of contempt in the past, were not going to impede with the progression of Wimbledon any longer.
Well, that was the intention of organizers at the All England Club, although it only took a meagre amount of precipitation on Monday to summon the new, $165 million retractable roof on tennis’ most celebrated stadium.
It’s unveiling, which occurred during the start of a third and final set in a round-of-16 encounter between Dinara Safina and Amelie Mauresmo, elicited much zeal and awe for the near-capacity crowd, who beheld the roof’s closure with eccentric fixation.
It had the feeling of a watershed moment, a unique and bewildering—even intimidating—piece of architecture draping over the worn grass on Centre Court, yet functioning in a way that stretched time as it slid across with glacial speed and never seemed to fully veil the brooding sky, like a tease before the actual showcase.
Then both sides met each end. It linked, devoid of any spectacular pyrotechnics often associated with majestic moments, but nonetheless was greeted by an enormous roar—an effusive release reminiscent to buzzing electrons.
The seal of tradition, it had hitherto been realized, was officially and irrevocably broken.
And it was welcomed, along with the detested rain of yore.
"We've been waiting for it for so long—it's the first time ever at Wimbledon somebody's waiting for rain—but we'd still prefer the sunshine," said Ian Ritchie, the chief executive of the club. "It's a historic moment in many ways, and I'm sure they all feel delighted to be here.”
Safina ended the match as the victor, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 in what was a dogged comeback, and experienced the initial sequences of play under the roof along with an erratic display of tennis by Mauresmo, who surrendered a 3-0 lead in the third set.
"The ball is flying a little bit more. That's how I felt. And we both kind of took a little time to adjust," Mauresmo said. "When the ball is in the air, and when you have the overhead or stuff, it's very bright."
Exchanging surfaces of racket heads, the sound of the ball seemed to be amplified by the freshly heard acoustics of the translated facility. On television, the echoes evidently rattled throughout the court and emitted a sort of walloping menace that would have suggested to the unaware ear that more power had simply been applied to the ball.
The concourse, too, seemed more engrossing.
“Somehow, you feel a little bit more of the crowd,” said Safina.
Tournament favorite Andy Murray, meanwhile, enjoyed the first full match played under the supervision of the roof, engaging in a five-set jostling affair with former training partner Stan Wawrinka in which the Briton escaped and claimed victory.
It was befitting that a British hopeful, the one touted to be the first native player to win Wimbledon on the men’s tour since Fred Perry captured the title in 1936, partook in the history of the day, which ended at 10:39 p.m. local time due to his prolonged match with Wawrinka.
The match was also the latest ever played on Centre Court."Always, when you play indoors the atmosphere is great," Murray said in a rare on-court interview, which is something traditionally designated to the final weekend.
"But when you have 15,000 people supporting you, it's pretty special."
Simply from the optics on television, there didn’t appear to be any reason outlining a problem with staging a roof setup at Wimbledon. Purists have debated the worth and requirement of such a proposal for years, but the players seemed to relish the inauguration of it and didn’t shed any shade of doubt.
"It's a plus, definitely, for the tournament to be able to play. Of course, we haven't seen really bad days so far in the tournament," Mauresmo said. "But I remember a few editions of Wimbledon when we would really have needed a roof. So it's a good thing."
On site, however, there was nothing to scorn or express discontent for, with Henman Hill reaming with spectators amidst pitch dark conditions while basking in the illuminating glow of the large projection screen, like campers around a fire.
And even though there wasn’t an obligatory necessity for the implementation of the roof on this day—the drizzle dwindled minutes after the tarp had been laid and the production began—the dynamic of that eager complex which rested on the head of Centre Court was too great to resist.
Clear skies ranged above, but all were captivated by the gratifying product of late-night tennis. So tradition, you see, wasn’t dismantled in the process, because the roof facilitated a flowing trial of great tennis that would have otherwise been deferred to the next day.
The fans cheered for the roof—and there was no inclination to bring it down.