Wimbledon officials Tuesday launched an emergency public relations offensive 18 hours after the latest finish in the history of what is considered a daytime sporting event.
The All England club got it is PR firm onto the case after the 10:58 pm conclusion of a first-round match won in five sets by Novak Djokovic over Olivier Rochus.
The late play scenario was made possible by the closing of the new Centre court roof and the convenient switching-on of the stadium lights.
The finish beat the previous “worst” of 10:39 pm last year at an Andy Murray match with the roof closed for rain.
Officials pleaded circumstances to explain away the Djokovic end just an hour shy of midnight.
“Normally we would expect the number one seed (Roger Federer, who also needed five sets to win) and the number three (Djokovic) to win in straight sets and subsequently plan an early supper,” said chairman Tim Phillips, citing an unofficial cut-off time of 11 pm for play under the new roof regime.
“We will always remain a daytime tournament but our main aim is to complete the official order of play on Centre Court for each day. We have a multi million pound facility that allows us to do just that whether it is raining or gets dark. Roof protocol states that ‘any match originally scheduled for Centre Court will normally be completed and, if necessary, the roof closed for reasons of light as well as rain.
“All we did last night was follow the laid-down procedure. The fact that play finished much later than normal yesterday was due to the unusually long first round matches.” Wimbledon, which managed for more than a century without lights, is known for treading carefully so as not to disturb residents of the posh suburb of Merton in SW19, which serves as home to the club.
Landowners are known to occasionally not be amused by the thousands of fans who throng to the tennis each day for a fortnight and the ensuing traffic and crowd control problems inevitably created.
Some residents at least manage to make the best of a captive market, charging 20 pounds (29 dollars) for parking in their property.
Phillips tried to ally fears of the stealth introduction of a separate night session on the lawns.
“We have always been very clear that we have no intention of ever staging separate night sessions. Nevertheless we continue to plan to finish complete our order of play.”