LONDON, JUNE 25 -- Great Britain's tennis fans saw a superb match today. It had drama, brilliant tennis and a tie breaker that will be talked about years from now.
There was one problem. The fans who saw the match were the ones at home, watching the BBC. They got to see a replay of what may be Wimbledon's greatest match, the 1980 final between Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe. The fans who came to the All England Club in the hope of seeing the 1987 tournament were all but shut out.
There was only enough dry weather today to complete exactly one match, Martina Navratilova dispatching Etsuko Inoue, 6-1, 6-2, in 41 minutes. If the match had taken much longer, it would not have been completed, which is exactly what happened to Ivan Lendl. He lost the first set to Paolo Cane, 6-3, and the two were tied at 5-5 when play finally was halted.
One day after the sun made an appearance, things returned to normal today. The day started out slate gray and never changed. It rained. It stopped. It rained. It stopped. On and on until dusk.
The almost-lost day left the tournament about 1 1/2 days behind schedule. Ideally, after four days, two rounds have been completed in singles and one in doubles. Now, the first round is not quite complete in singles and no doubles matches have been started.
So far, 107 singles matches have been completed -- one less than the record low of 108 played here the first four days two years ago. The only concession the tournament committee has made to the weather so far is to make the first round of the men's doubles best-of-three sets.
After her victory, Navratilova spent a few minutes taking on an opponent much tougher than Inoue: the English tabloids. She has been the subject this week of some sensationalized stories, some about her personal life, others about her professional future. This morning, two newspapers blared headlines that she was ready to retire because she made the comment yesterday that she knew that sooner or later the young players would overtake her.
"There are two kinds of newspapers," she said, "newspapers and rag papers. The rags have been pretty low here this year. The things they have said are outrageous. I don't mind a lie here and there, but it should at least be realistic. I don't even know who these guys are."
With that, she was off, the only player in the field who is in the third round. Some players have not yet stepped on court to begin their first round matches.
One player who stepped on court today who would have just as soon have watched McEnroe and Borg, was Lendl.
His second-round opponent, Cane, is a 22-year-old Italian who was recently inducted into the army. He is here on leave, granted so he can play Wimbledon, and Lendl quickly wished that Cane was doing KP somewhere. Cane's style is distracting, like a pitcher with a herky-jerky motion. He hits his forehand inside out and his serve seems to come from somewhere inside his left ear. But he is quick and, although grass is not his favorite surface, he thrives on it compared with Lendl.
Right away, Lendl was in trouble, going down a break in the fourth game of the match when he netted a scoop volley and Cane smacked forehand winner down the line. Cane served his way to 5-2, and then it rained.
Four hours later, the players came back and Cane quickly served out the set, winning, 6-3. At that point, seeded players had dropped four sets in this tournament and Lendl was responsible for two of them.
He was stronger in the second set, as if understanding that Cane, who is ranked 40th in the world, was capable of beating him. But every time he hit a winner to put Cane in trouble, he followed it with an error.
They went on serve to 4-5, Cane serving. At 15-all, Cane double-faulted. At 15-30, he netted a volley. Two set points. Lendl could get the match even and, inevitably, Cane would start to fold.
Instead, Lendl folded. He got second serves on both set points. He never got the ball over the net. Cane, given a reprieve, served out the game for 5-5. Then, the rains came again and, as it turned out, the day was over for everyone.
With a night to think about the situation, the odds favor the player who has been through this sort of thing before. Much as he despises grass -- the head groundsman even commented on Lendl's distaste for the stuff today -- Lendl is an experienced champion who knows how to win. Nonetheless, he is not likely to sleep easy tonight.
Two other players who made it to the court today were Jimmy Connors and Steve Shaw. Despite the rain, their match on Court 2 had attracted a huge throng, many of them teen-agers who had come to watch Shaw, the blond, blue-eyed Englishman who took Connors to three sets earlier this month at Queens.
While the fans waited, a young lady named Cassie Williams made a bit of Wimbledon history, starting the first wave seen in the 101 years of the championships. Williams, 18, had seen the wave done while watching American sporting events on television and, as the wait continued, she encouraged people around her to join in.
Sure enough, they did, and the court that has witnessed such upsets as Sandy Mayer over Ilie Nastase (1973) and Tim Gullikson over John McEnroe (1978) became the sight of Wimbledon's first wave. Williams' accomplishment was judged so monumental that she was interviewed at length on the BBC, which, having finished with McEnroe and Borg, had lengthy fill time to work with.
Moments later, Connors and Shaw came onto the court, accompanied by wild cheering and squealing. They were the first to appear on an outside court. The two show courts always dry faster than the 16 others because they are tended more closely throughout the year and, in the case of Centre Court, never played on.
As soon as Shaw and Connors reached the court and put their equipment down, it began to rain again. Without having hit a ball, they picked up their bags and went back to the clubhouse. They didn't come back.
At 6:50 p.m., the dreaded announcement came: play had been abandoned for the day. Everyone headed for the gates. Within 30 minutes, the skies had cleared. The sunset was gorgeous. TODAY'S MATCHES Centre Court
Todd Nelson, Irvine, Calif., vs. Paul McNamee, Australia (completion of suspended match); Paolo Cane, Italy, vs. Ivan Lendl (2), Czechoslovakia (completion of suspended match); Tine Scheuer-Larsen, Denmark, vs. Steffi Graf (2), West Germany; Mel Purcell, Atlanta, vs. Stefan Edberg (4), Sweden; Robin White, San Jose, Calif., vs. Helena Sukova (4), Czechoslovakia.Court No. 1
Ricki Osterthun, West Germany, vs. Anders Jarryd, Sweden (completion of suspended match); Chris Evert (3), Boca Raton, Fla., vs. Laura Golarsa, Italy; Boris Becker (1), West Germany, vs. Peter Doohan, Australia; Dianne Balestrat, Australia, vs. Manuela Maleeva (7), Bulgaria; Miloslav Mecir (5), Czechoslovakia, vs. Mark Woodforde, Australia.Court No. 2
Stephen Shaw, Britain, vs. Jimmy Connors (7), Sanibel Harbor, Fla; Slobodan Zivojinovic, Yugoslavia, vs. David Pate (15), Las Vegas; Mats Wilander (3), Sweden, vs. Jan Gunnarsson, Sweden. Court No. 3
Gigi Fernandez, Puerto Rico, vs. Katerina Maleeva (14), Bulgaria; Chris Bailey, Britain, vs. Brad Gilbert (12), Piedmont, Calif; Andres Gomez (8), Ecuador, vs. Ulf Stenlund, Sweden.