Night play at Wimbledon likely for Olympic tennis

Posted March 23, 2012, at 6:30 p.m.

Turn on the lights, Wimbledon. The Olympics are coming.

Some tennis matches during the London Games are likely to be played under the lights and under the roof on Centre Court at Wimbledon, the venue for the event.

“There will not be a night session, but the matches may go into nighttime,” said Juan Margets, executive vice president of the International Tennis Federation.

Lights will be a near necessity because of the tight schedule. Early in the tournament, five matches per day are planned on Centre Court beginning at 11:30 a.m., meaning some sessions will probably extend beyond dusk.

If so, the Centre Court lights will be turned on, which requires closing the roof. The change, made at the discretion of the referee, may take place during a match.

The English weather could also push play past the early evening.

“We have to assume there’s going to be some rain, right?” Margets said.

However, there will be no repeat of the Olympic marathons at the Beijing Games, where rain disrupted the schedule, and one session lasted until 3:35 a.m. A town ordinance in Wimbledon prohibits play after 11 p.m.

“We will not stop a match in the middle of a service motion,” Margets said with a laugh. “But there is a limit. If by 11 it’s not over, we’ll go to the next day.”

Matches won’t start after 9 p.m., he said.

Centre Court has had a roof since the 2009 tournament. The roof was closed because of rain once in 2009 and not at all in 2010, but the cover came in handy last year, when the early part of the tournament was plagued by rain.

Former Wimbledon champion Maria Sharapova won a match with the roof closed in 2011, and she said it alters the game.

“It’s a bit of a different vibe,” she said. “The sound is completely different. You hear the atmosphere much more obviously than when the roof is open. And hitting the ball, even when it hits the grass, it’s different.”

Nonetheless, she’s fine with playing late under the lights.

“Why not?” Sharapova said. “I mean, as long as it doesn’t go too late.”

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