The retractable roof of Centre Court is open today, but it overhangs just enough of the structure to cast angular, latticed shadows below. The air is still, temperatures are in the low 20s and there’s just a little cloud overhead. In other words, perfect conditions for Andy Murray to open his defence of the title he won here nearly a year ago
But almost every one of the 15,916 seats is empty. And the only trace of Murray’s presence is the scoreboard in a corner of the court that displays a record of the last match he played here – a straight-sets defeat of Canada’s Milos Raonic that gave him the right to lift the famous gold-plated trophy for a second time. That’s because, on the day of my visit, there are still six weeks before the start of the holiest fortnight in the tennis calendar.
There’s no shortage of activity, though. A groundsman methodically patrols the playing surface, trimming the grass with a bright red electric mower. Other members of the 17-strong ground staff stride purposefully along the outskirts of the court, past the drainage systems that have existed since it was opened in 1922, into the bowels of the stadium and through to one of the outside courts. Their boss, Neil Stubley, finishes speaking to a small tour party on the other side of the stands before making his way over and folding down one of the dark green seats next to me.