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Drenched Wimbledon loses complete session more rain in forecast; Players, fans wait it out as officials scramble

WIMBLEDON, ENGLAND — WIMBLEDON, England -- Myra Hartley and her daughter Kathryn spent seven hours at Wimbledon yesterday, eating sandwiches, drinking tea and watching as lots of rain fell on a tent that covered Centre Court.

They were not unhappy.

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"Well, I'm British," Myra Hartley said. "I'm used to it. I think only the British would sit through this."

Play at Wimbledon was called on account of rain yesterday -- only the 28th time in tournament history that a session was washed out.

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It may rain again today.

It may rain again tomorrow.

Ninety-six matches have been completed, which is 120 to 130 behind schedule.

If the rain keeps up, organizers may be forced to open the gates on the middle Sunday, which is normally a day off at Wimbledon.

Rain is forecast for Sunday.

Apparently, Britain's two-year drought is ending.

Tournament organizers are attempting to keep a stiff upper lip.

"As far as we can see into it, it's five days of not-too-hopeful weather," said Alan Mills, the tournament referee. "I mean, there are sort of spells and windows, but there isn't one day when it says we're going to have a fine, clear, warm, sunny day, even in the middle of flaming June."

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Mills basically spent the day indoors, a walkie-talkie virtually attached to his ear, his eyes peeled to something called MIST, which is basically a television set hooked up to Britain's weather service.

"We can see all the bands of rain," Mills said. "The forecasts have been extremely accurate, unfortunately."

Mills continued to compile order-of-play cards in the hope that the tournament would actually resume. "One has to be optimistic," he said.

Meanwhile, Wimbledon's grass courts remained remarkably dry, thanks to the tents on Centre Court and Court 1. The outer courts were shielded with so-called Inflatables, green tarps raised by cushions of forced air.

"The ground staff can actually work underneath the Inflatables and mark out the court," Mills said.

As the rain continued to fall early last night, Mills and Tim Phillips, a tournament organizer, were asked about the possibility of placing a retractable roof over one of Wimbledon's stadiums.

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"Well, this is an old chestnut," Phillips said. "I think, you know, you're familiar with the story. The issue is, if you have one roof on one court, on what is basically an outdoor tournament, how material is the benefit?"

At the Australian Open, organizers get along very well with a retractable roof.

"We have looked at it, considered it, from every single angle, not least from the players' angle, and the view at the moment is where we are," Phillips said.

So, everyone waits for the skies to clear.

In the meantime, the players hang around the tea room, playing cards and eating.

The fans try to stay dry -- or, at the very least, amused.

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About two dozen spectators formed a conga line behind a FTC soldier and danced around Court 1.

Others huddled in clusters under roofs, stands and umbrellas.

"There's a certain amount of atmosphere, here, don't you think?" said Bob Davies, a chemical engineer who took a vacation day to attend the rainstorm.

He watched the tent. He listened to the public-address system and the persistent announcements that organizers were "hopeful" that a match could be started.

"It would be nice if they played tennis," he said.

Eilish Kelly and her daughters Orla and Sophie didn't seem to mind the bad weather as they ate their strawberries and water.

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"We tried to spot the talent earlier," Eilish Kelly said. "We saw Martina Hingis, Goran Ivanisevic and Jana Novotna. They were walking from the locker room. We did not see Tim Henman. He didn't walk through. Everyone was terribly upset."

But not too upset, apparently.

"There were French, Germans, Americans, Japanese and Chinese in the crowd waiting to see the players," Eilish Kelly said. "You name it, everyone from everywhere was there. It's not just British people who are tolerant. But I do think we're all a bit mad."

Featured matches

Play starts on Centre Court and Court 1 at 7 a.m.; play on all other courts begins at 6 a.m.

Centre Court: Natasha Zvereva, Belarus, vs. Elena Likhovtseva, Russia; Martina Hingis (1), Switzerland, vs. Olga Barabanschikova, Belarus; Tim Henman (14), Britain, vs. Jerome Golmard, France; Thomas Johansson, Sweden, vs. Boris Becker Germany

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Court 1: Venus Williams, Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., vs. Magdalena Grzybowska, Poland; Greg Rusedski, Britain, vs. Jonathan Stark, Seattle; Amy Frazier, Rochester Hills, Mich., vs. Brenda Schultz-McCarthy (14), Netherlands; Pete Sampras (1), Tampa, Fla., vs. Hendrik Dreekmann, Germany

Backlog options

Changes made and options being considered to help deal with the backlog of matches caused by rain at Wimbledon:

Changes made

Begin play two hours earlier on Centre Court and Court 1 and one hour earlier on the outside courts.

Reduce men's doubles from best-of-five to best-of-three until play reaches the quarterfinals.

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Possible changes

Reduce men's singles matches from best-of-five to best-of-three until play reaches the quarterfinals.

Play on the middle Sunday, which was done for the first time in 1991.

Extend play through the third Tuesday, the last possible day before Wimbledon would interfere with other tournaments.

Associated Press

Pub Date: 6/27/97


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