Rain ends, but so does tradition Wimbledon sets Sunday matches


WIMBLEDON, England -- There was Andre Agassi yesterday on Centre Court, a post-teen angel dressed in white, hanging on for a five-set victory against a left-handed Canadian named Grant Connell.

Jimmy Connors, 38 going on infinity, was creaking and clowning his way through a preposterously easy triumph over Veli Paloheimo of Finland.

Later, as the sun was setting on a glorious, nearly rain-free day, Tim Mayotte was laughing off four match points and coming back for a five-set victory against No. 9 seed Michael Chang.

And then, they ended a Wimbledon tradition.

Members of the All England Club broke with their 114-year history and announced that tomorrow's dark middle Sunday of the fortnight will be filled with tennis, weather permitting. After five days of rain, the tournament is hopelessly behind schedule with 123 of approximately 208 singles matches complete.

The men are six matches from finishing the first round and only No. 1 seed Steffi Graf, a 6-0, 6-1 winner over Peanut Louie Harper, has won a women's second-round match.

"It's a delicate situation," said Chris Gorringe, the All England Club's Chief Executive.

How delicate? Picture this: Thirty thousand spectators lining up for tickets at 20 turnstiles. Cars clogging the streets of the London borough of Merton on a normally placid church-going morning.

4 "We're working on the logistics," Gorringe said.

Boris Becker, the No. 2 seed who finally played his first-round match, applauded the club's decision to schedule middle Sunday matches.

"It's about time they do it," said Becker, a 6-4, 6-2, 6-4 winner over fellow German, Carl-Uwe Steeb. "It rains here all the time. It's always a tight program. You have 1991 so sometimes you have to go with the flow."

After four days of near constant rain, the Wimbledon fortnight was in full bloom under generally sunny skies yesterday. Agassi completed his fashion show, uh, tennis match against Connell, surviving two brief rain delays and winning 4-6, 6-1, 6-7, 7-5, 6-3. When rain swept through Thursday, the players were even at one set and one game apiece.

"The grass was fun," Agassi said after completing his first Wimbledon appearance since 1987. "It feels like a crap shoot out there. You just kind of throw the dice and hope it rolls your way."

Agassi, wearing his new white outfit, delighted the Centre Court crowd. He needed a little luck -- a net cord to save a break at 5-5 in the fourth set -- and a closing ace to finally put away Connell. He popped a ball into the stands and left Centre Court with a wave and a smile.

"I have to admit, before I came here, I accepted 100 percent the tradition and all that Wimbledon offers sport," Agassi said. "I fell into the excitement and the classiness of it all. I mean, at the U.S. Open . . . I'm used to hearing people swear at me and stuff. So it's quite a change of pace to show up here and have the stadium full and people not moving around, people just loving their tennis."

Connors played the role of tennis patriarch in his 19th year and 99th match at Wimbledon. He earned victory No. 83 by crushing Paloheimo, 6-2, 6-0, 7-5.

"By all laws of medicine, I shouldn't be playing now," said Connors, recovering from a wrist injury and playing for the first time since twisting his back at the French Open and defaulting in the fifth set of a marathon against Michael Chang.

Rated by London bookmakers as a 200-to-1 underdog to win the title, Connors faces Aaron Krickstein in the second round.

"I'm worth a pound or two, for old time's sake," Connors said.

So is Mayotte. Gentleman Tim laughed in the face of defeat, brushing aside a quartet of match points in the fourth set to beat Chang, 6-7, 4-6, 6-1, 7-6, 6-2.

"It was just a good time out there," said Mayotte, a 1982 semifinalist who was sidelined since April with back problems. "With no preparation, I couldn't expect much. The crowd got behind the match. It was infectious. It was my most fun match, ever."

But it hurt. Oh, how it hurt.

"I feel stiff right now," Mayotte said. "Very stiff. Oh, God."

Wimbledon 1991 -- Five days down, a fortnight to go.

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