LONDON, JUNE 23 -- On the one hand, tradition took a terrible beating at Wimbledon today. On the other hand, it had a wonderful day, depending on your point of view.

Those who have grown accustomed to Boris Becker joyfully romping on Centre Court while, a few yards away, Ivan Lendl huffs and puffs and tries to blow Court 1 down before finally winning, had lots of fun. Those who think part of Wimbledon is to get rained on also had a lot to write home about.

Becker began his quest for a third straight Wimbledon title with an easy, 6-4, 6-2, 6-4, victory over Karel Novacek. Becker was artistic -- hitting a left-handed winner at one stage -- enthusiastic and always in command.

At the same time, Lendl, who finds everything so hard here, was fighting for his life against Christian Saceanu, an 18-year-old born in Romania who now carries a West German passport.

It took Lendl almost 2 1/2 hours to come from a break down in the fourth set to beat Saceanu, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3, 7-5. "I am going to have to play a lot better than this if I hope to win the tournament," Lendl said.

On the other hand, it will be difficult for Stefan Edberg, the No. 4 seed, to do much better than he did today. In exactly 60 minutes, he wiped out countryman Stefan Eriksson, 6-0, 6-0, 6-0. It was the first perfect-score match at Wimbledon since 1947 and only the fourth ever here.

It was only the third shutout in open-era Grand Slam history, the other two being at the French Open: Nikki Spear over Daniel Contet in 1968 and Novacek over Eduardo Bengoechea last month.

"I played very well and he played badly," Edberg said succinctly. "Towards the end, I started to feel sorry for him. I thought about giving him a game but then I thought I might never have a chance to win love, love and love again. So, I just played normal."

Things were normal enough around the rest of the grounds: Gabriela Sabatini, Manuela Maleeva and Lori McNeil, the only seeded women to play, won in straight sets. Pat Cash (11), Brad Gilbert (12) and Joakim Nystrom (13) advanced on the men's side. The only upset was the loss by Carling Bassett, who is not seeded but ranked 27th in the world, 6-4, 0-6, 6-4, to Sabrina Goles.

In short, once the tennis began, things were normal. But before Novacek started the tournament by cracking a serve into the net tape at 4:13 p.m., there was more than a bit of bedlam.

For those who cherish the sight of the defending champion taking the court at 2 p.m. precisely, bowing to the Royal Box and then beginning the tournament after a five-minute warmup, this was a day to shudder early and often. Already delayed 24 hours by rain, the tournament was delayed yet again today as the skies kept changing color, from black to gray, to almost blue and back to black.

Because of this, it was 3:15 p.m. on Tuesday -- 25 hours 15 minutes late -- before Becker and Novacek made their way through the wooden doors that lead to Centre Court. They were greeted by thunderous cheers.

"I'm glad we got a match in," Becker said. "I was beginning to think we might not play until next Tuesday."

He was not alone. As Becker and Novacek began warming up, the skies began darkening -- again. "I regret to announce," chair umpire John Parry said at 3:20, "that play is suspended."

Off the two went, back to the locker room where they had spent most of the last two days, as Becker put it, "lying on top of one another, trying to sleep a little and talk about nothing."

They sat with the other stir-crazy players for 40 minutes. At 3:35, the rain stopped and the crowd began to rhythmically applaud, wanting play to begin. One minute later, the Duchess of Kent, dressed in bright pink, departed the Royal Box followed by her entourage. Tea time.

As a result, when Becker and Novacek returned at 4:02 p.m. the Royal Box was vacant. So there was no one to bow to. There was more to come. Because the players had warmed up, left and come back so quickly, referee Alan Mills gave them 10 minutes to warm up rather than five. They even changed balls after five minutes.

Finally, at 4:12, with everyone getting restless, Novacek was ready. Becker wasn't. He wanted a drink of water. So everyone waited. Champion's prerogative.

A minute later, Novacek threw the ball in the air and, at last, the games had begun. From the start, Becker was merely Becker. He served four aces in the first set, broke Novacek in the third game and put the engine on cruise control.

In the third game of the second set, running way wide for a Novacek angle, Becker suddenly switched his racket to his left hand and punched a winner crosscourt. Novacek just stared as the crowd went crazy.

"I've never tried a shot like that before in my life and I'll probably never do it again," Becker said. "I don't know what came over me. I just saw it was the only way to get the ball and I said, 'Let's go for it.' "

Ever mindful of his opponent's feelings, Becker yelled, "I'm sorry," to Novacek, knowing the shot looked like a grandstand move. "I didn't want him to think I was just playing with him," Becker said.

He might as well have been. It took 1 hour 37 minutes for Becker to win his 15th straight Wimbledon match. It is not insignificant to mention again that he has never lost a match point here. His only loss came three years ago, on Court 3, when he broke an ankle against Bill Scanlon.

"I don't know what it is about this place, but when I go out I don't feel any pressure at all," Becker said. "I feel like I weigh 290 {strengthwise} instead of 190. I just like to play here like no other tournament. It didn't even bother me to wait in the rain. I just felt good all the time."

That is exactly the opposite of the way Lendl feels here. Not only has he never won, he had to battle to make it to last year's final, the only one he's played in here. "I always know it will be a struggle for me here," Lendl said. "It is a struggle from the minute I get here on day one. The weather is a struggle, the grass is a struggle. Everything."

Today, he kept watching in disgust as Saceanu whipped two-fisted backhands past him, attacked off his solid first serve and often kept him off balance. It was only after getting down, 4-2, in the fourth set that Lendl finally got his game going, unleashing a couple of forehand winners to get the breaks he had to have to win.

And so, he went home a frustrated winner. For him, that is part of Wimbledon tradition. For Becker, it was just another day at his favorite office.

And for the traditionalists, it has already been a fortnight to forget. Wednesday it gets worse. Because only 30 of 128 matches have been completed the first two days, the committee has reluctantly moved the start of play on all courts to noon. No 2 p.m. No bows. Ten-minute warmups. Chatty umpires.

What's this place coming to? TODAY'S FEATURED MATCHES Centre Court

Martina Navratilova (1), Fort Worth, vs. Claudia Porwik, West Germany; Marty Davis, Harbor Bay Isle, Calif., vs. Jimmy Connors (7), Sanibel Harbor, Fla.; Chris Evert (3), Boca Raton, Fla., vs. Sara Gomer, Britain: Brad Drewett, Australia, vs. Yannick Noah (6), France.Court No. 1

Tim Mayotte (10), Bradenton, Fla., vs. Jean Fleurian, France; Adriana Villagran, Argentina, vs. Steffi Graf (2), West Germany; Catarina Lindqvist (11), Sweden, vs. Kathy Jordan, King of Prussia, Pa.; Mats Wilander (3), Sweden, vs. Gary Muller, South Africa. Court No. 2

Jo Louis, Britain, vs. Helena Sukova (4), Czechoslovakia; Miloslav Mecir (5), Czechoslovakia, vs. Mike DePalmer, Knoxville, Tenn.; Andre Agassi, Las Vegas, vs. Henri Leconte (9), France.Court No. 3

Mike Bauer, Lafayette, Calif., vs. Emilio Sanchez (14), Spain. Court No. 13

Sergio Casal, Spain, vs. David Pate (15), Las Vegas; Pam Shriver (5), Lutherville, Md., vs. Natalia Medvedeva, Soviet Union; Wendy Turnbull (12), Australia, vs. Debbie Spence, Cerritos, Calif.; Kevin Curren (16), Austin, Tex,, vs. Ben Testerman, Knoxville, Tenn.Court No. 14

Claire Wood, Britain, vs. Bettina Bunge (9), West Germany.