The rain arrived at tea time and, like a bad guest, wouldn't leave. Finally, a deluge at dusk ended today's play at Wimbledon with only 17 of 72 scheduled matches completed. On only one of the 18 grass courts at the All England Lawn Tennis and Crouquet Club was play so fast that two matches could be played in the two hours before the rain arrived.
Naturally, that was on Court No. 1, where the two top seeds in these championships -- Bjorn Borg and Chris Evert Lloyd -- won their lopsided second-round matches with such dispatch that they beat the rain in this land that has no climate, only weather.
Even when it rains at Wimbledon, a certain pungency hangs in the air. Players arrive here at such a highly strung pitch they give off a superabundance of energy. The same itinerant folk who seem jet-lagged and dull when they visit the backwater burgs of tennis' transcontinental flying circus are vivacious when they get here.
Even the stolid Borg, after getting a good workout from Mel Purcell, 6-4, 6-1, 6-3, went beyond his usual range of pleasant comments -- i.e., "For sure, I practice every day my volley."
Borg even went so far as to say Wimbledon is no longer No. 1 in his heart.
"My main ambition now is to win the U.S. Open in August," said Borg, who is 0 for nine in that event and plays much better before queens than he does in Queens. "As long as I stay in tennis, the biggest for me now is the first U.S. Open . . .Yes, bigger than my sixth (straight) Wimbledon."
That's Borg's way of telling the rest of the field here that it might as well go home, because he doesn't feel a shilling's worth of pressure over his Wimbledon winning streak that has reached 37 matches.
Perhaps, most symbolic of the Wimbledon high that grips players was the almost euphoric good humor of No. 4 seed Martina Navratilova. On this day when no seeded players lose, she swept past Susan Mascarin, 6-0, 6-1.
"I was quoted as saying that I was playing so well that I would be on myself," snickered Navratilova. "Well, this morning a bookie got my phone number, called and asked me, 'Well, how much do ya wanna bet?' "
Asked if all her legendary superstitutions were in working order, Navratilova replied, "Since Borg never shaves during Wimbledon, I've decided not to, either."
And what about her sometimes too-taut nerves?
"I've found that doing the laundry in the morning settles me down," said Navratilova, who by the final may have other players delivering their dirty whites to her door.
Navratilova was in such generous spirits that she deliverately gave a second-set game to Mascarin so as not to embarrass her, love and love.
"I felt sorry for Susie," said Navratilova of the 16-year-old Mascarin, the second-youngest player in the world's top 100. "She was just a nervous wreck before she went on the court. With the Duke and Duchess of Kent there she had been practicing curtsies and that didn't help her any . . . Even after the match, she could hardly talk. I remember how nervous I was when I first played on Centre Court."
Evert was also in a gift-giving mood, conceding a miscalled point to Yvonne Vermaak in her 6-1, 6-2 blitz. "I don't know whether I would have done the same thing if it had been in the final," said Evert candidly. "It would depend partly on my frame of mind and partly on whom I was playing. For instance, with Martina, we're both always honest. But to tell the truth, others are not so generous, so you give them nothing."
Just as Borg is haunted by his U.S. Open failures, Evert admitted, under the influence perhaps of Wimbledon truth serum, that these championships dog and bedevil her.
"Am I fearless enough to win here?" she asked, knowing her timidity in leaving the safety of the baseline. "Yeah, I guess so. Not real convincing-sounding, huh?
"I have to admit that last year really stung. Losing in the finals (for the third straight year) stayed with me a long time.
"Something always seems to happen to me in the finals here, doesn't it?" said Evert, who is "only" two for nine in winning the silver plate. "Well, if I get there this year, it's definitely going to be a different story."
The tennis today was intermittent, but all the better for vignettes and vibrations. For instance, as black skies approached and thousands of umbrellas sprouted, two fine players -- each at tense junctures in their careers -- tried to rush critical stages of their matches to a conclusion.
One was Pam Shriver, a U.S. Open finalist in '78 but now, a week from her 19th birthday, a mere seventh seed and a somewhat forgotten star. Shriver hurried to the conclusion of her 6-0, 6-3 victory over Australian Elisabeth Little. Now a veteran, Shriver knows the importance of getting matches over and done with quickly here before the schedule, tangled by rain, becomes a labyrinth. When you must play seven matches in 12 days to become champion, get 'em out of the way when you can.
"I could be the dark horse, but it's a long road," said Shriver, who has gone the full route of childhood stardom that 14-year-old Kathy Rinaldi of Stuart, Fla., began here on Tuesday. "There seems to be an assembly line of young players with good ground strokes and two-handed backhands and they're all tough.
"They start in a fairyland and when things go wrong, it comes as a shock. It happened to me."
If youth is tough, so is a little age. Ask soon-to-be 29-year-old Jimmy Connors.
Once Conors won with brass and blasts; now, he squeezes through the tough days on experience and guts under pressure. Today it was 24-year-old Chris Lewis of New Zealand who gave Connors fits and probably should have ended the day with a two-sets-to-none lead. Instead, it was Connors who escaped with a pair of tie breaker victories and a two-set lead in a discontinued match.
Finally, this truncated day left impressions of two great champions -- Borg and Evert -- who were so swiftly excellent that neither rain nor competent opponents could delay their appointed task.
Borg is like some fabulous, versatile machine that oils and polishes a new function into working order each day. In his first set Monday, he was practically comic; by his last set today, he was brutally overpowering. "I'm very pleased with my progress here," said Borg, who is not easily pleased. "I feel really good out there."
Earlier comments about Borg's rusty form will please be disregarded.
But the most pleasing sight was Evert, who performs like a Degas ballerina of the baseline. Her play is like a combination of dance with analytical geometry -- a blend of light, graceful footwork and constantly changing strategic angles. To scramble to the net, or even attack, seems, for her, like a violation of an elegant, prearranged choreography.
Even in two dry hours today, there was time for both the dynamo and the dancer to take the same court, do their work and be gone before the mortals got their drenching.