The first week of Wimbledon was played under sunny skies, much to the disappointment of workers at W.L. Gore & Associates, but they finally got what they were wishing for this week when the skies opened up and it started sprinkling.
That's when a new retractable roof - made of fabric created by Gore workers in Cecil County - was closed over Centre Court at All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club, making for indoor play for the first time since the tournament began in the 1870s.
"We were praying for rain and it finally came," said Tom Kelmartin, a product specialist for the company.
The 252-foot-wide roof is covered with 56,000-square-feet of W.L. Gore Tenara Architectural fabric. The fabric is woven from yarn made of material called PTFE, a base for many other Gore products. The fabric is coated with a flexible waterproof layer. The roof is translucent, allowing natural light to come through, and also has light fixtures that turn on when the stadium is closed. Kelmartin said the fabric, which is flexible so it can be folded, feels like a convertible top.
Kelmartin said Gore began developing the fabric in 2001 because it saw good marketing potential for it. The company gave a sales presentation to officials with the All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club in 2004. They received the order to make the fabric for the roof in 2005. About 60 Gore employees worked on the roof, which is the company's largest project to date.
A new roof stirred a lot of talk as purists of the sport saw it as yet another way of breaking from the tradition of Wimbledon. Rain delays have become an expected part of the tournament, which is played during the rainy season. Last year's final between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal started late and was interrupted twice by rain.
But the tournament was facing pressure from broadcast stations that found it difficult logistically to air delayed games. Wimbledon officials have said in the past the game still has many traditions, such as playing on grass and wearing white clothing, but that the game also has to modernize as well.
"Wimbledon didn't feel that it went against tradition, merely that it complemented the tradition and ensured live television even when it rained," Henry O'Grady, a Wimbledon spokesman, said in an e-mail.
O'Grady declined to give the cost of the project.
A sports marketing expert said Wimbledon is great exposure for Gore's already established products.
"Gore has obviously a lot of history and experience in weatherproof or weather-resistant fabrics on both the consumer side and the industrial side of the equation," said Howe Burch, a former Reebok and Fila executive who now works for TBC advertising firm in Baltimore. "This further perpetuates their role as the leader in that technology."
"There are few sporting events in the world that have the cachet that Wimbledon and maybe the Masters have in terms of tradition and heritage and global appeal," Burch added. "And Wimbledon is right there at the top."
Other tennis tournaments, including the U.S. Open, are also talking about adding a roof to their stadiums.
The roof at Wimbledon takes about 8 minutes to close. The stadium is then cooled with a ventilation system, a process that can take 20 to 30 minutes.
The roof was closed for the first time Monday during a match between Dinara Safina and Amelie Mauresmo. The audience chanted "Roof, roof, roof" when it was unveiled, according to newspaper reports. By the time the game resumed it had stopped raining, but the roof was kept in place.
The roof also allows games to play into the night. A second game was also played Monday under the roof ending at 10:39 p.m., the latest a game has ever ended at Wimbledon.
"There were lots of firsts made that night," said Kelmartin.