Belfast Telegraph

Dream day as Claire plays Centre Court at Wimbledon

Claire Curran with her husband Michael Haslett and daughters Romaine and Samantha after her Wimbledon Centre Court match
Claire Curran with her husband Michael Haslett and daughters Romaine and Samantha after her Wimbledon Centre Court match
Claire Curran in action in 2007
Claire Curran with Anne Keothavong against Serena and Venus Williams (left)

By Staff Reporter

For Claire Curran, it was a unique experience and a day to remember on the Centre Court at Wimbledon.

The Belfast-born former Great Britain and Ireland Federation Cup player was given the special honour of playing on the Centre Court at the world's most famous tennis club before the defending champion Novak Djokovic takes to the grass today for the opening match.

Watched by invited guests in the royal box, including some of her family, Claire and three other members of the All-England club played a ladies' doubles match in what was a full dress rehearsal for the championships proper.

Meanwhile, on the outside courts star players Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray, Maria Sharapova, Serena Williams and many more went through their final practice sessions, all hoping to be on that same Centre Court in the finals two weeks from now.

Chairman of the All England Club Philip Brook said that for the past five years Wimbledon had organised a rehearsal to ensure the smooth running of the tournament.

Four members of the club are given the privilege of playing on the pristine surfaces of the Centre and Number One Courts on the Saturday before the championships begin officially.

Among those watching Claire on Saturday were her husband Michael Haslett and daughters Romaine and Samantha. During Wimbledon Claire will be working as an analyst for the championships' daily radio and international internet channel.

A former top 100 doubles player who learnt her tennis at Belfast Boat Club, Claire played at Wimbledon in four championships and now shares her time between coaching for the Lawn Tennis Association and commentating on Women's Tennis Association and the men's ATP website TV channels.

Guests on Saturday lunched in Wimbledon's clubhouse before taking their seats in the royal box to watch the specially-arranged doubles.

The umpire, ball boys and girls and players took to the Centre Court precisely as the championship contenders will do this week.

The electronic scoreboards and Hawk-Eye technology were fully tested to ensure smooth operation. As ever, Wimbledon leaves nothing to chance.

The Centre Court's surface, manicured to the last millimetre of grass, looked immaculate in brilliant sunshine and was barely marked by Claire and her playing partners during their hour-long encounter.

Immediately afterwards they switched for another match to Wimbledon's No 1 Court, which has a new multi-million pound sliding roof to match the Centre Court.

The roof on each court was open at the weekend as the temperature soared into the mid-30s.

Weather forecasts suggest Wimbledon's new roof addition will not be needed in the coming week, though temperatures will not be as sweltering as the 34C which Claire faced on Saturday.

After her experience, she said it had been a great honour to be invited to play on the Centre and Number One Courts.

"Though I am very familiar with Wimbledon as a member now and as a WTA tour player in the past, I have never played on this, the most famous of all courts in the world," she said.

"I was delighted to be asked to do so in advance of this year's championships and I can say it fulfils a childhood dream and all the more so because I was out on the Centre Court in front of my family and friends.

"Even though it was not a competitive match, the nerves were there as I imagine they will be for even the greatest players performing before 14,000 spectators and in front of all the famous faces in the royal box during the next fortnight. It was an experience I will certainly never forget."

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