Rain falls, and so does Mauresmo

The Baltimore Sun

WIMBLEDON, England -- Trapped by the incessant rains and its own intransigence, Wimbledon stumbled on yesterday with one of its worst-organized two weeks in recent years.

It took four days for Andy Roddick, the lone American man remaining in the singles tournament, to get back on court, only to be rained off again when he was within a service hold of taking a two-set lead in his fourth-round match against Paul-Henri Mathieu.

It has been even more aggravating for No. 2 seed Rafael Nadal, who began playing Robin Soderling on Saturday. If they return to Court 1 today as scheduled, it will be the eighth time they have tried to complete their match, and they are still in the third round.

When officials gave up for the evening about 7:30 p.m. and an hour after the last of the day's six rain delays, the tournament was 177 matches behind schedule, including singles, doubles, mixed, juniors and the senior matches.

Seven matches were completed despite intermittent showers and drizzle, none more noteworthy than 18-year-old Nicole Vaidisova's 7-6 (6), 4-6, 6-1 victory over defending champion Amelie Mauresmo, who played shockingly poor tennis.

The singles draws are a mess. The women are not in critical shape, with seven of the eight quarterfinal slots filled. But everyone must wait for the winner of No. 2 Maria Sharapova vs. No. 23 Venus Williams, who got in only three points before they were sent home.

The men's side, however, is jumbled. There are two players into the quarters, No. 1 Roger Federer and the man he will next face, Juan Carlos Ferrero. But two third-round matches are unfinished, No. 4 Novak Djokovic vs. Nicolas Kiefer and Nadal-Soderling.

"Everything went wrong today," said Mauresmo, who had 13 aces and 14 double faults. She had a 6-3 lead in the first-set tiebreak and couldn't hold it.

At 6-5 in the tiebreak, Vaidisova made possibly the most important play of the match. Mauresmo sent a body-shot serve at her, and she fought it off, blocking the ball back so effectively with a backhand that it forced an error by the French champion.

Mauresmo still doesn't look comfortable on grass. Though she was 5-for-5 on serve-and-volley points, Vaidisova hasn't persuaded herself to keep coming forward. Nevertheless, the rising Czech star earned applause from her stepfather and coach, Alex Kodat, who said, "I think today Nicole showed she is a great fighter."

There was one other upset as Marion Bartoli of France, who hits two-fisted from both sides, defeated Jelena Jankovic, 3-6, 7-5, 6-3.

"It's not a big surprise for me," said Bartoli, who won the U.S. Open junior title in 1999. "I'm a top-20 player. I'm not 200 in the world."

Matches on Centre Court and Court 1 usually begin at 1 p.m. No Grand Slam begins matches that late, but Wimbledon resists starting the "show courts" at 10:30 a.m. or 11 a.m., even though it would mean a few more hours of daylight to help finish matches.

Only in the past two days have the show courts been moved up to 11:30 a.m., and Wimbledon refuses to play on the middle Sunday unless there is a huge backlog of matches. Had there been play Sunday, the tournament might have caught up. There was no rain after about 10 a.m.

Given the difficulty of his French opponent, Roddick was playing his best tennis of the tournament yesterday, holding serve easily and playing smart, patient tennis on Mathieu's serve until he was hustled off the court.

He cracked Mathieu twice in the opening set and once in the second without facing a break point himself.

Roddick had to wait until the 11th game of the second set for what probably will turn out to be a decisive break. At 30-all, he took a second serve and chipped it back deep down the middle, limiting Mathieu's passing angles as he followed the shot to the net. Rodick then put the ball away with his second volley.

With a critical break point, he converted with a little help from the net cord, which intercepted a drive by Mathieu and gave Roddick a chance for another stroke. Eventually, Mathieu missed wide and Roddick was up 6-5 at the final rain delay.

Other winners yesterday included No. 5 Svetlana Kuznetsova, No. 6 Ana Ivanovic, No. 6 Nikolay Davydenko and No. 16 Lleyton Hewitt. Davydenko and Hewitt are into the fourth round and Kuznetsova and Ivanovic into the quarters.

Charles Bricker writes for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

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