I need a seven-letter word for "not quite stable after batting as a substitute."

This is Sunday and I'm working on the crossword puzzle that appears in the sports section of the London Observer. Actually, I gave up after failing on a four-word, 14-letter answer for "getting customers perplexed and headed for bankruptcy."

Now I'm just reading the papers of a Sunday morning for lack of a tennis tournament to go to. John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors and Chris Evert Lloyd will be among 15 seeds playing Monday. But in 97 summers the dinosaurs who put on Wimbledon have played only two matches on a Sunday, both when a Saturday final was rained on. This year they scheduled the final on Sunday, July 4, and yet refused to play on this middle Sunday of the Wimbledon fortnight.

The Americans of NBC-TV paid Wimbledon $13 million for tournament rights this year, including a Sunday curtain-closer to the show that has been the most exciting in tennis for decades. So as not to seem too easily seduced by the filthy lucre of commerce, the dinosaurs in green-and-mauve club ties stood firmly against play on the middle Sunday.

Or, perhaps, just maybe, they are holding this middle Sunday as enticement to the Americans to sweeten the pot for next year. Five days of rain have left the Wimbledon schedule a shambles with nearly 200 matches in a backlog that almost certainly will carry the tournament beyond July 4.

Players are restive. McEnroe, who said the weather was getting everyone in a lousy mood (he would know a lousy mood when he saw it), said if Wimbledon had any sense they would play this middle Sunday. The diplomat also said Wimbledon should start earlier than 2 p.m. Certainly, and even earlier than the noon start used reluctantly in emergencies such as this week's deluge.

The dinosaurs have reasons for such scheduling. "Play begins at 2 p.m. precisely," as the program informs us, because that allows time for lunch before heading to the tennis grounds.

Like members of the flat earth society, who believe Columbus faked it, many Britishers refuse to acknowledge the passage of time. They believe this is 1882. If in 1882 one played tennis only after lunch and before mid-afternoon tea, one's responsibility is to preserve the idea.

The traditionalists therefore perceive as radical anyone who acknowledges the passage of time by being so brash as to hold an idea up to examination.

"One thing the English don't want to be," says an Englishman, "is disturbed. The prevailing form of thought is, 'Don't let's deviate.' "

For NBC's $13 million, even dinosaurs sit up and roll over on command. It shan't be long before NBC asks for the middle Sunday, also, and perhaps a first Sunday instead of Monday in order to turn Wimbledon into a three-Sunday kind of marathon such as the pro basketball championships have become.

For now, though, Wimbledon is a one-Sunday event, with the tennis folks left with little to do on this middle Sunday other than search the dim attics of their minds in hopes of finding a two-word, 10-letter combination for "teams get muddled, the way some ladies ride."

A few American journalists, new to Wimbledon, asked a tournament committeeman, Bimbi Holt, why there would be no tennis this Sunday. (As names go, Bimbi is wonderful but second on the committee to Buzzer Hadingham, who flew fighter planes in the war, presumably buzzing about.)

"One of the main problems is the local population," Bimbi Holt said, referring to the suburb of Wimbledon. "They'd object strenuously. They'd like to come out one day and get their cars out of the garages and driveways. The tournament is a great disruption for the population."

The image projected by this reasoning is that the poor folks of Wimbledon have been held prisoner all week in their homes by traffic drawn to the tennis tournament. Have they not gone to work, which, one would think, requires leaving the house?

Oh, well. The sainted readers of American sports pages would find Sunday's London Observer an exercise in frustration, just as unlucky Englishmen in Washington must long for the vivid images Hugh McIlvanney painted Sunday in a long column on next week's England-West Germany game in soccer's World Cup.

Nary a word in the English press all week about George Allen's resurrection in Chicago, nor a jot concering the tenuous relationship of the Clippers basketball team with San Diego. Try as a fellow might, he could not learn if Steve Garvey is hitting .250.

Yet, "England's new opening pair, Cook and Tavare, looked good," began The Observer's cricket column by Sir Len Hutton (truly a knight of the keyboard). "The only flaw which I could see was their apprehension to ball outside the off-stump from the pace bowlers."

My sentiments exactly. Under the headline, "Two Worlds Collide," McIlvanney's column on the World Cup gets right to the significance of the England-West Germany soccer game: "The admission may be embarrassing, but there is no doubt that for some people on both sides the intensity of feeling is fed by the emotional residue of the two more basic conflicts between Germans and Englishmen this century."

Four cricket stories, a World Cup report, a golf column and brief items on rugby, swimming and track make up the Observer's first sports page Sunday. The first mention of Wimbledon is on Page 8, the back page of the section, where everyone seemed to know everything about tennis.

This air of knowledge is disconcerting to a fellow fresh over from the colonies. Only yesterday this fellow talked to Stan Smith after the American's defeat in the second round. Smith's road to Wimbledon had been bumpy, what with elbow surgery and not much play. So a fellow asked Smith, "Did you play at Eastbourne last week?"

Smith blinked and smiled. "No. I'd have to have the operation," he said, a gentle reminder that the women played at Eastbourne last week while the men worked at Bristol. Oh, well.

Anybody know a six-letter word for "restraint of a honeymooner carrying an L."?