Wimbledon is one of the most prestigious and enthralling sports events of the year, where some of tennis’s greatest players fight for supremacy on the storied grass courts of the iconic All England Club. Unfortunately, because the tournament takes place during the English summer, it can often suffer delays and postponements (made up for by a vast increase in umbrella sales) due to the predictably poor English weather.
In fact, since 1922, only eight Wimbledon Championships have not been interrupted by rain, meaning that fans may as well expect to (attempt to) enjoy a bit of a sing-along with Sir Cliff Richard, rather than relying on seeing world-class tennis! In this article, we will be taking a look at how often it has rained at Wimbledon, as well as rounding up how rain delays function during the tournament, and how the installation of roofs on both Centre Court and Court One have helped to reduce the impact of the inevitable British downpour! We will also then explain what happens in terms of tickets, should a rain delay occur, and look at some of the most famous Wimbledon rain delays of all time.
Does It Normally Rain During Wimbledon?
According to stats compiled by Opus energy back in 2016 to mark 130 years of the world’s oldest tennis tournament being held at its iconic venue, a total of 32 full days have been rained off throughout Wimbledon’s history. So, on the face of it things don’t look too bad and the odds of a whole day being entirely wiped out are slim.
However, we should note that here we are talking about days where no play was possible at all. That means rain for the whole day, affecting all courts. However, the retractable roofs on Centre Court, built in 2009, and No.1 Court (finished in 2019) have more or less wiped out the possibility of an entire day with no tennis these days. Rain delays remain very common on other courts, of course, meaning that fans and players alike must still watch out for those pesky dark clouds! But for those with tickets to the show courts, or watching on from home, rain is not quite the disaster it was for more than 100 years.
The wettest day in Wimbledon history occurred on the 28th of June, 1906, in which a shocking 62.7mm of rain fell throughout the day. Other particularly miserable Wimbledon weather records include the 1999 Championships, in which the temperature somehow managed to hit the dismally cold 4.9C. It’s meant to be July!
In stark contrast, the hottest day ever recorded during the Wimbledon Championships occurred much more recently (surprise, surprise) in 2015, in which the temperature soared to a tropical 35.7C. Overall, the moral of the story is to turn up to Wimbledon equipped with clothing suitable for any possible weather eventuality!
Perhaps the simplest way to answer the question of how often it rains at Wimbledon is to flip the question: how often does it not rain? Based on that research from 2016, the only years the grass-court major passed without any rain at all were 1878, 1903, 1908, 1949 and 1993. In fact, the official Wimbledon site has an alternative opinion on years where there was no rain and they suggest that the following were “recorded as being without rain interruptions”: 1931, 1976, 1977, 1993, 1995, 2009, 2010 and 2019.
Their data only covers the Championships since 1922 so if we add in 1878, 1903 and 1908 (but discard 1949), that means there have been 11 Wimbledons without rain. 2023 was the 136th edition of the tournament, meaning that statistically you can expect at least some rain to fall 92% of the time!
There is obviously a little uncertainty with these stats, especially with regards the earliest tournaments. Various different sources quote different years for “dry” Wimbledons. Whatever the full and exact figure as of 2023, it is safe to say that more often than not it rains “at Wimbledon”.
Of course, it raining “at Wimbledon” really means “some rain falling over a 13.5 acre site in two weeks”. Or, put another way, you need 14 consecutive rain-free days over an area the size of seven football pitches in order to call it as dry. Anyone familiar with the English weather knows that getting 14 consecutive days without rain is not especially common and for those to perfectly coincide with the Championships is considerably more improbable!
What Happens During Rain Delays at Wimbledon?
As we will explain below, rain delays on Centre and No.1 Court are now largely a thing of the past, but if you find yourself on one of the outdoor courts, they are a very realistic possibility. When the rain begins falling, the match’s umpires will pause play once the current point has concluded, and ground staff will promptly bring on covers to prevent the court from getting any wetter.
Once the court has been suitably covered, the waiting begins; as play cannot resume whilst it rains, the players, umpires and spectators are simply forced to shelter and hope for it to stop! For spectators, it’s an ideal time to grab a lovely glass of Champagne or Pimm’s, but for players, it can be tough to have to take yourself out of the game for a period of time and then regain your focus and intensity when the match restarts. If the weather isn’t too awful, spectators who don’t have tickets to either of the two main Show Courts can always watch the action on the big screen from Henman Hill.
How Do the Roofs Work?
As we have previously mentioned, Wimbledon has two highly impressive retractable roofs on Court One and Centre Court, but how do these actually work? Well, the roof on Centre Court, which was completed in 2009, is massive, measuring some 90 metres long and 75 metres wide, and therefore has to be extensively supported.
To keep the enormous roof in place, 10 trusses were built to go across it, with each of these weighing a very hefty 100 tonnes. Each of the trusses is connected using a fabric known as Tenara, which is both waterproof and translucent, meaning that natural light is ingeniously still able to pass through on to the court, but the rain stays out! As you can imagine, to build such a high-tech structure is extremely expensive, and whilst the official cost of constructing the roof has not been revealed by the All England Club, it is estimated to have cost up to £100 million. Costly stuff this rain!
What Happens When It Rains on Centre or No.1 Court?
Play is quickly halted and the roof begins to close in. This only takes around 10 minutes, meaning that even the heaviest of downpour cannot significantly impact play, as the procedure is highly efficient. Then, however, there is a slight delay before the players can get back into the action, as closing the roof turns the court into an indoor grass court, which will experience a variation in bounce due to condensation and moisture.
To combat this, a vast number of air conditioners are quickly switched on, to ensure that there is consistency in the conditions, and this whole process takes between 25 and 30 minutes. Once the conditions are perfect, the players are able to undergo a full warm-up and get themselves prepared to get back into the action. Once the roof is closed, it remains shut until the end of the match, irrespective of whether London has suddenly turned into the Bahamas outside! The roof also contains a number of LED lights which ensure that the game is suitably lit up for the TV cameras, and it even acts as a sunshade for those lucky enough to be in the Royal Box, when it is open.
How Do Rain Delays Affect Tickets?
For those who have public ballot tickets for Court One or Centre Court, you are guaranteed a full day of tennis, or close enough, and therefore do not have to worry about getting your money’s worth. The same goes for those who have secured Debentures, which grant guaranteed top-class tickets for every day of five years of Wimbledon tournaments on either of the main show courts, but they are very pricey!
For those unable to get their hands on tickets to Centre and No.1 Court, a significant lack of play will mean that you are eligible to receive either some or all of your money back. For example, after some particularly heavy rain in 2016, fans on No.1 Court (which was roofless at the time) saw less than an hour of play throughout the day and were therefore eligible for a full refund.
Those on courts Two and Three, along with spectators who had purchased ground passes, were eligible for a 50% refund, as they had only been able to see between one and two hours of tennis. As demoralising as it is to be so unlucky as to hardly see any action at Wimbledon, there is thankfully a refund protocol in place.
What Are Some of the Most Famous Rain Delays in Wimbledon History?
Aside from Sir Cliff Richard’s decision to mark the 100-year celebrations of Centre Court at Wimbledon 2022 by recreating his 1996 performance during a rain delay of such classics as “Summer Holiday”, Wimbledon’s chequered past of poor weather has seen some rather dramatic rain delays take place over the years. Below, we will highlight three prominent occasions where rain seemed to dominate proceedings at the iconic tournament.
2023: Novak and the Towel
In the first round of this year’s tournament, in which defending champion Novak Djokovic was taking on Argentine Pedro Cachin, a rather bizarre rain delay occurred. After the Serbian great won the first set, during which light drizzle had been falling on the court, the roof was shut as usual. However, play was unable to resume for an unusually lengthy 80 minutes, as the court was deemed too slippery by match officials.
Djokovic therefore took matters into his own hands, attempting to dry the wet court with his towel and even encouraging the Centre Court crowd to “blow” on the grass! As the ground staff began using leaf blowers, to little effect, the roof was then reopened, having been shut for over an hour, and the court then quickly dried, as the rain had stopped. Djokovic went on to win, but this bizarre occurrence was very frustrating for both players and spectators, as the rubbish British weather somehow seemed to defeat the £100 million roof!
2001: Rain Halts Henman
Henman made the semis at Wimbledon four times in five years around the turn of the millennium but never quite made the final. So often thwarted by the brilliant Pete Sampras, in 2001, the Brit seemed to have a real chance of making the final and possibly even winning the title.
Playing the unseeded Goran Ivanisevic, the one-time world number four had thrilled the home fans by winning the third set without dropping a single game. That 6-0 win moved him two sets to one up and a place in the final was surely his… right? The rain had other ideas though.
The rest of Friday was a total washout and in the days before Centre Court’s roof, Henman and his Croatian opponent had to return on Saturday to complete their match. Henman had lost his mojo though, and soon lost the fourth set. Yet more rain pushed the contest into a third day but the Oxfordshire ace was unable to recover, and it was Ivanisevic who booked his place in the final, the tournament being extended into a third week due to the rain. Ivanisevic went on to win, leaving Henman and his legion of fans with a nagging, frustrating, “what if”.
1985: Swimming Under Centre Court!
5th July, 1985 was undoubtedly the worst day of Wimbledon weather ever. An extreme weather event, one likened to the kind of summer storm that is experienced in the American Midwest, saw torrential rain, booming thunder and persistent lightning leave the crowd utterly soaked, but still jovial.
The downpour was so extremely heavy that two women claimed that there was so much rain in the tunnels under Centre Court, they had been able to swim in it! The rain even messed with the electronic scoreboards on the two main courts, to much amusement from the crowd, and an inch of rain supposedly fell in just 20 minutes!
The downpour in London was so heavy that it even managed to pour through a ceiling in the committee corridor of the House of Commons, meaning that staff were forced to bail out the rain. Apparently, just three days before the storm, the All England Club were reportedly going to begin weighing up the possibility of building a roof at Wimbledon, and it’s fair to say that the extreme weather of July 5 underlined its importance!
When Has the Tournament Been Extended Due to Rain?
In decades prior to the implementation of the Wimbledon roofs, it was a fairly common occurrence to have to extend the iconic tournament into a third week, such as in 2001. In that year, Ivanisevic defeated Patrick Rafter in the men’s final on Monday, as his rain-delayed semi-final against Brit Tim Henman took a whole three days to complete as detailed above. However, it is exceedingly rare for Wimbledon Championships to last any longer than the third Monday, even with the worst possible rain delays.
However, in 1922, the first to be held at the tournament’s current venue, it seemed as if the weather was particularly determined to wash out the Championships. The tone was set when King George V proudly opened the new Centre Court, only for heavy rain to immediately start lashing it down.
The tournament had barely begun, and it was already chucking it down. What followed was two weeks of almost constant downpour, affecting every single day of the Championships. By the second week of the tournament, most of the courts, all of which were completely uncovered other than Centre Court, looked more like bogs, and were practically impossible to play tennis on!
Thanks to the seemingly never-ending rain, the tournament ended up with so many games postponed that it took a week longer than anticipated, finishing on Wednesday of the third week. This is still the worst weather of any Wimbledon tournament in history, but as long as the British weather remains predictably poor, rain delays will always be a part of the world’s oldest tennis championships, unless they can put a roof on every court! Or perhaps a retractable dome surrounding the entire All England Club?