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Wimbledon takes tennis high-tech

By Andrew Heining / July 2, 2009

Britain's Andy Murray serves to Stanislas Wawrinka of Switzerland under the closed roof on Centre Court, during their match at the Wimbledon tennis championships in London, on June 29.

Kieran Doherty/Reuters

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Venus Williams handed Dinara Safina a crushing defeat, while sister Serena bested Elena Dementieva in a close match at Wimbledon's women's semi-finals Thursday afternoon, setting up another all-Williams final for Saturday. It's the fourth time the sisters will meet for the title, and though the contenders may be familiar, a few new technological innovations are bringing the action to fans worldwide in ways not before seen.

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Don't rain on my match point

Most notably, of course, is the All-England Club's new Centre Court retractable roof. The $131 million, 182,986 sq. meter accordion-style roof allows for play to continue in even the hardest midsummer downpours. But even for that kind of cash, rain delays aren't a thing of the past. The translucent top takes 10 minutes to deploy, and a sophisticated three-level air conditioning system (one for the roof, one for the stands, and one to circulate air at court level) needs 20-30 minutes to get conditions inside just right for play.

Some purists argue that the overhead addition takes away from the charm of the storied club, but Billie-Jean King, one of the game's most decorated players, citing numerous interrupted matches over the years in a piece for Newsweek, says that the new roof belongs right where it is.

Both my 1963 Wimbledon final (against Margaret Smith) and the 1973 final (where I played Chris Evert) were delayed by a full day due to weather. The 1963 final was delayed by two days, because back then we did not play on Sunday, so we did not take the court until Monday. Both matches required a very long wait, and I would have loved a roof on those occasions. I also remember a pivotal match against Martina Navratilova later in my career where we played in the rain. It was miserable; my glasses got rain on them and fogged up, and I lost the match 10-8 in the third set. Would a roof have helped? It definitely would have made things better.

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