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Friday, May 15, 2009
All you need to know about Wimbledon's new roof

I'm not certain about many things in this world, but this I know for sure: This Sunday, the skies over London will be piercing blue, without a cloud on the horizon. That's because Sunday is the day Wimbledon unveils and tests the new, retractable roof over Centre Court.

All England Club officials are expecting a capacity crowd of 15,000 for their "Centre Court Celebration," and those folks will get a chance to gape at more than the roof as it closes and opens. Tickets for this event went for 35 British pounds (roughly 50 bucks), and they sold out within five minutes of going on sale. You want to know how big a deal this is in Great Britain? The BBC (England's national television network) is televising it. ESPN is on board, too, having sniffed out how big a deal this is (ESPN Classic and, Sunday, 9:30 a.m. ET). At tradition-conscious Wimbledon, the decision to transplant a geranium usually entails a 12-man committee and, oh, about four decades of deliberation.

The crowd will witness an exhibition featuring Andre Agassi and his wife, Stefanie Graf (I still prefer Steffi, but I guess Mrs. Agassi has shed that identity for good), Tim Henman and Kim Clijsters. It's a somewhat odd choice of performers because if you leave Mrs. Agassi out of the tally, the three other players have a grand total of one Wimbledon title between them.

The gates of the club will be flung open at noon, allowing fans to wander around or suck down Pimm's Cups until they have to be carried to their seats for the 2:30 p.m. local start of the on-court festivities. At that point, the roof will be ceremonially closed, and Centre Court will become an indoor arena for the first time in its long history. Or so the AEC officials hope.

Here's all you need to know about the roof (file it away for use to impress your friends in late June and early July when Wimbledon is being played):

1. The "roof" is made of 5,200 meters of a waterproof "folding fabric concertina," which basically means it's like an accordion, or those cheap shades they sell down at the big-box home improvement store.

2. The roof is in two sections, one at the north and one at the south end of Centre Court. The fabric is attached to steel trusses that move apart, stretching the fabric over the court. It takes 10 minutes for the roof to be stretched over the court, so those green tarps and that disciplined Wimbledon grounds crew will still be needed to cover the court until the roof is closed.

3. It will take about 30 minutes for play to resume after play is halted to close the roof. Clearly, play will not be continuous because the air-circulation system that will keep the court from becoming slicker than snail snot has to be activated. The circulation system will have to pump in eight liters of fresh air per second per person to manage the environment with the roof closed.

There you have it. If you'll be in London on Sunday and going out to the celebration, make sure you take sunscreen -- at least 30 SPF.