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Published:February 27th, 2009 10:18 EST
Former Tennis Greats Will Break in the Centre Court`s Roof

Former Tennis Greats Will Break in the Centre Court`s Roof

By Christopher HIllenbrand

Not literally of course, but tennis will resume at the All-England Club at Wimbledon ahead of schedule this year.


Former #1 ranked tennis pros Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf are to compete in a tournament held at Wimbledon consisting of tennis legends come May. They will be joined by Kim Clijsters and Tim Henman in the event showcasing a men`s singles, women`s singles and a mixed doubles match. The matches will be played in front of a live 15,000 capacity audience in the traditional pro-set format. The first to eight games wins unless the match should go to 8-8. In that case, a tiebreaker will be played.

            The occasion has been christened "A Centre Court Celebration" and besides highlighting the several legends playing in the matches, its other purpose is to test the roof`s efficiency and the new air management system implemented into the court`s design. The spectacle is scheduled for June 22nd through July 5th, five weeks before the Wimbledon championship takes place. Tickets to the event will go on sale on March 12th for $50.


What makes their exhibition matches unique is that the contests will be held on the Centre Court with its new retractable roof recently installed in the off-season since last July. The original overhang that towered over players on Centre Court was removed in 2007. But considering the court`s susceptibility to the elements, which postponed many matches, the overhang was reconstructed as of 2008. An additional 1,200 seats were also built into the structure in 2008.


Andre Agassi put away his racket for good in 2006 with 8 career Grand Slams to his name, including the Wimbledon title he won in 1992. Agassi lost to Pete Sampras, his long-time archrival, in the 1999 Wimbledon final: his final appearance in a final at the All-England club. Returning to the spotlight at Wimbledon was always something Agassi cherished in his professional career.


I have great memories of playing at Wimbledon and to be among the first to play under the new Centre Court roof is really exciting, " Andre admitted to reporters before they interviewed his wife, Steffi Graf.


Graf, widely regarded as the greatest female tennis singles` player of all time, retired in 1999 after winning 7 of her 22 career major titles at Wimbledon.


There is no tennis venue more special to me than Centre Court at Wimbledon. It just doesn`t get any better," she said. I couldn`t be more honored to play there again with my husband Andre, and tennis greats Kim and Tim. It will mean so much to return to Wimbledon and " relive so any wonderful memories."

            Kim Clijsters was a #1 ranked player in 2003 and 2006 and won 34 WTA singles titles and 11 WTA doubles titles in her career. In 2003, she won doubles titles at Wimbledon and the French Open. The highest she ever gotten in singles at Wimbledon was the semifinal twice, before she retired from the game in 2007. Clijsters faced Graf in the 4th round during the 1999 Wimbledon, but was easily defeated. This upcoming match up will be their 2nd meeting at Wimbledon. Though the stakes are simply for show, she spoke of the opportunity for a rematch.

           It was quite an experience. I was very nervous to play against my idol and because of the rain the match took 2 days to finish. The new roof will prevent that this time around."

           Tim Henman won 11 ATP singles titles and 4 ATP doubles titles before retiring in 2007. Henman made it to the Wimbledon semifinals 4 times during his career. Although he also never made it to the finals, Tim relished his chance to take on Agassi in their singles match.


Wimbledon`s Centre Court was always a special place for me."


Ian Ritchie, the All-England Club`s chief executive entertained the notion of having tennis luminaries back on tennis` center stage.


Though this project has been a sophisticated engineering feat, we always wanted to capture the essence of Wimbledon`s history and tradition in a new, modern Centre Court which itself would still be celebrated as the stage of some of the most memorable moments in tennis. With players of the caliber of Agassi, Graf, Clijsters, and Henman, this test event promises to be hugely entertaining. Brilliant players, great tennis, an iconic venue and the chance to be part of Wimbledon history "what more could one want?"