London – Wimbledon was hit by heavy rain on Monday as fears grew that Centre Court's £80 million roof was transforming the 126-year-old event into an outdoor and indoor tournament at the same time.
With all courts covered early in the day, matches in the last 16 of both the men's and women's singles were delayed.
The gloomy conditions provoked more debate over the Centre Court roof which was called into action over four nights in the first week of the tournament, including Thursday when Rafael Nadal crashed out.
The second seed had levelled his second round tie with world number 100 Lukas Rosol and was in the ascendancy when the players were ordered from the court to allow the roof to close, despite it not raining.
After 40 minutes, the players returned to an indoor event, the balls were heavier, the atmosphere more humid and Rosol was rejuvenated, breaking in the first game of the decider on his way to one of the greatest shocks in the sport.
On Friday, again under the roof, defending champion Novak Djokovic dropped the first set before beating Radek Stepanek while Roger Federer slipped two sets to love down against Julien Benneteau before winning in five.
Saturday night went primetime again when Andy Murray completed a four-set victory over Marcos Baghdatis in a third round match which started with the roof open, but ended with it shut.
It was 11:02pm (1.02am SA time) at the finish, two minutes past the agreed cut-off time, a deadline set for health and safety concerns to allow thousands of spectators to reach the nearest train station, 20 minutes away by foot.
The last service into London leaves just before 1am (2am SA time).
Federer admitted that once the roof closes, players have to alter their game plan.
“It does play different indoors. Obviously that's a bit of getting used to. Indoor grass is not something we're quite familiar with,” said the six-time champion.
“It changes everything. Does it play slower indoors? I would think so, a little bit.”
Djokovic admitted that he was surprised that his match against Stepanek had started under the roof, despite the skies being clear.
“This is an outdoor tournament, so I think everybody wants to play when the roof is open,” said the Serb.
“I was a little bit surprised when I saw sunshine that the roof is closed. But obviously they're relying on the forecast that I don't think is very reliable here.”
But he added tournament officials have a tough decision to make over closing the roof especially when broadcasters wield such power – 8.3 million people tuned in to watch Murray's match on Saturday night.
“It's hard to judge because there are rules that have been there for years. It's not on us to decide if the roof is going to be open or closed,” said world No 1 Djokovic.
“From a players' perspective, I think it's really important that people from the organisation and everybody take the opinion of the players very seriously.”
Murray's clash with Baghdatis was the latest ever finish for a match at Wimbledon, beating the 10:58pm (11.58pm SA time) set by Djokovic and Olivier Rochus in 2010.
Wimbledon chief executive Richard Lewis said that organisers have to be aware of the tournament setting when it comes to late finishes.
“In New York everyone travels by car so it is a different situation, the Australian Open is played almost at the heart of the city centre (in Melbourne) so people can disperse very easily,” he said.
“Wimbledon has its unique situation. We make that tennis decision at 11 o'clock in the best interests of the match.” – Sapa-AFP