Wimbledon gets off to worst start in 13 years

Updated: June 23, 2004, 7:03 PM ET
Associated Press

WIMBLEDON, England -- Andy Roddick managed to help entertain drenched Wimbledon spectators without hitting a shot.

Nary a point was played in the 74 matches scheduled Wednesday at the All England Club, the tournament's first complete rainout since 1999. Because sprinkles interrupted action Monday and Tuesday, too, only 83 of 160 matches have been finished, the fewest in 13 years through Day 3.

When the sun finally peeked out from behind the clouds at 2:40 p.m., Roddick thought he'd get a chance to resume his first-round match against Wang Yeu-tzuoo of Taiwan, suspended Tuesday at 4-2, 40-all.

"Automatically, the juices start flowing a little bit, so I ran down to the locker room," the U.S. Open champion said. "But no. Denied."

With live tennis coverage washed out, the British Broadcasting Corp. aired matches from past years and a rerun of its special Wimbledon edition of "The Weakest Link," taped last week. Contestants included the second-seeded Roddick; his coach, Brad Gilbert; and Hall of Famer Boris Becker.

Hundreds of fans huddling under umbrellas on the grassy slope known as Henman Hill chuckled or applauded while watching on the giant TV screen outside Court 1.

Gilbert was asked, "What palindromic word is often used to mean 'midday'?" His not-even-close answer: "12 o'clock." He grimaced when the host said, "Noon."

Roddick whiffed when queried about which player was known as "Fraulein Forehand," failing to name Steffi Graf. But he drew laughs while bantering with host Anne Robinson, and Roddick's appearance was the sort of extra exposure the sport could use these days, much like his hosting of "Saturday Night Live" last year.

"I was so nervous, I almost choked," he said about the quick-question quiz show. "It's so nerve-racking."

That's how some players describe a rainy day at Wimbledon. It's not easy to figure out when to eat or how to while away the time.

"You have to wake up thinking you're going to play," Roddick said. "It's tough to think it's going to rain all day."

This meteorological madness is nothing new, of course. The tournament's official statistics book contains a year-by-year account of Wimbledon weather dating to 1919, and the All England Club announced in January it will build a retractable roof over Centre Court that's expected to be ready in 2009.

That won't help this fortnight, though. So organizers cut men's doubles matches from five sets to three until the quarterfinals and scheduled the start of Thursday's play an hour earlier than usual.

"You're sort of constantly on edge. The 'hurry up and wait' syndrome is what you're forced to deal with, and some players deal with it better than others," said three-time Wimbledon champion John McEnroe, a TV analyst here for the BBC and NBC.

"That's why this is more of a mental test than any other event and perhaps less of a physical one. You have to dig deep within your soul."

The players with the right to feel most frustrated might be French Open runner-up Guillermo Coria and Wesley Moodie, a South African ranked 106th. Their first-round match was halted Monday tied at two sets apiece.

Play resumed Tuesday, when scattered drops made the turf damp and slippery, and Coria looked as if he hurt his groin and knee during a tumble. When the match was suspended at 5:15 p.m. Tuesday -- with Coria two points from victory at 6-4, 6-7 (3), 6-3, 6-7 (3), 5-3, 30-all -- he limped off and didn't look happy about not finishing.

Roddick also lost his footing Tuesday while attempting to serve-and-volley on what turned out to be that day's final point.

"It was slippery, but I guess they have more experience than I do," he said. "It was definitely a bit dangerous out there, but it's not my call."

On Wednesday, Coria was in the players' restaurant, picking at a plate of pasta. Roddick was there, too, hanging out with a friend. Next door, No. 30 Vince Spadea checked his e-mail on one of 20 computers in the players' lounge.

"Just really bored right now," French Open champion Anastasia Myskina said.

Various players, coaches and other entourage members sprawled across stuffed chairs and couches, reading newspapers or books, giving the room the feel of an airport terminal during a blizzard.

"You sit here with all the people, you go crazy. If you sit at home, you also go crazy," said 2001 champion Goran Ivanisevic, whose semifinal against Tim Henman that year stretched through three days.

"That's part of Wimbledon. Wimbledon without rain is not Wimbledon."


Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press

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