Wimbledon’s mission to maintain its position as the world’s premier tennis tournament was stressed by All England Club Chairman Philip Brook to members of the Lawn Tennis Writers’ Association at a lunch in London.
Brook, who succeeded Tim Phillips as Chairman last December, will lead the latest project, called Wimbledon 2020, for further development of the Grounds. It is a project, he revealed, which included consideration of putting a roof over the tournament’s second show court, No.1 Court.
The opening of the new No.3 Court for the 2011 Championships completed theLong Term Plan put into place 15 years ago, which started with the building of the new No.1 Court. “So we have been looking at what we do next,” he said. “We are finding as the tournament continues to grow that some of the facilities built 10 or 15 years ago need more space. So we have created an issues list for further development.”
Brook stressed there are no firm details yet. “We have set ourselves a target of next May to say what we plan to do, but they will be about improving operational effectiveness and efficiency.
“Consideration of a roof for No.1 Court has to be part of our thinking. It would be remiss not to consider that. When the new No.1 Court was built it was built roof-ready, physically able to take a structure.
“Finance would be the biggest argument against it. Centre Court is the show court for the weekend of the finals, so if you get to the second Thursday you know you are going to complete the tournament. If we had a second court with a roof we would know by the second Tuesday. So we would gain something and give a second group of fans an opportunity to see live tennis.
“There are some strong arguments for doing it but the economic case is certainly weaker than it was for Centre Court. We had some designs produced for a roof, which was cheaper than Centre, but operational disadvantages meant that we discarded the idea. We don’t have a plan [to build a roof] but we need to have it included on our list of things to look at.”
Brook said that in his opinion No.1 Court with a roof would be a desirable thing to have. “It would give a second court for broadcasting live tennis, a second group of happy customers and more certainty about completing the tournament if you get bad weather in the second week.”
One existing improvement scheme already in hand is the plan to triple the amount of space available to the competitors for relaxing. This will gather momentum immediately after the staging of the 2012 Olympic tennis event at Wimbledon and will be ready for the 2013 Championships. There is also a planning application in place to rebuild the covered courts area, increasing the number from five to six. This area is used to house the player transport operations during The Championships and because of the ongoing issue of security, Wimbledon is looking at the option of building a tunnel from there directly into the club grounds.
Asked about the possibility of Wimbledon ever staging the sort of night sessions seen at the Australian and US Opens, Brook stressed, “There is no realistic chance of that happening. Evening tennis was never in our minds when we built the roof. If we start a match and it is raining we will take it to a conclusion but we won’t schedule night tennis in fine weather.”
On the question of recent dissatisfaction among the top men about the physical demands imposed on them, he said, “Men’s tennis is great to watch but it is a brutal sport to play. You are seeing frustration, perhaps understandably, from top players of whom a lot has been asked in recent years. Something needs to be done about it. It is too early to say what, but more work needs to be done to look at the calendar, but I do hope it would not come to [a strike]”.
Praising the “very capable” team who helped him in his first year as Chairman, Brook added, “We have to keep working hard. The moment you stop the others start to catch up. The challenge for me and the people around me is to continue the good work that has been done. There is no intention to slow down. We are very careful to maintain Wimbledon’s traditions. They aren’t going to change”.