LONDON -- It was late in the afternoon Thursday and the skies were darkening once again. The only thing blacker than the clouds overhead was Ivan Lendl's mood. There he was on Centre Court, fighting for his life against one Paolo Cane, a player known to dozens of people in the tennis world.

Lendl grimaced. He swiped at the wet grass with his racket. He argued with the chair umpire. Above the court, in the BBC broadcast booth, Dan Maskell let the camera do its work. Finally, after a full minute of silence, Maskell said, "Not a very happy man."

Maskell is a man of few words, and he almost never wastes them. He is as much a part of Wimbledon's tradition as the grass courts, the Royal Box or Centre Court.

"I remember when Fred Perry won his third Wimbledon in 1936," Maskell said. "I told him after the match what an extraordinary feat I thought it was. He told me how lucky he thought he was that for three straight years he had never been sick or hurt and never had to miss a day.

"I thought about that the other day when I realized I hadn't missed a day here since 1929."

This is Dan Maskell's 59th Wimbledon. Put it another way, since the day Bud Collins, the icon of American tennis was born, Maskell has not missed one day of play at Wimbledon. The other day, when Ted Tinling celebrated his 60th year at Wimbledon, Maskell was impressed. "Teddy's been here a long time," he said, smiling.

Tinling, who at 77 is two years younger than Maskell, arrived here four years after he did.

Between them, Maskell, Tinling and Collins have seen 135 Wimbledons. Collins, the baby of the group at 58, first came to Wimbledon as a spectator in 1959. The players, even the great ones, come and go. Maskell, Tinling and Collins have stayed.

They have a number of things in common: remarkable memories, a penchant for story-telling, generous natures and strong backgrounds as players. Maskell was the pro at the All England Club for 27 years, one of Britain's top players. Tinling was a good amateur player who played until well into his 40s. And Collins, who talks on the air as if he is the world's worst hacker, won the national indoor mixed doubles championship in 1961.

But the three share one thing above all else and that is an abiding love for tennis. Tinling may have expressed it best for all three. "There are no three words in the English language that give me more pleasure than getting into a car in the morning and saying, 'To Wimbledon then.' As long as I can do that, life is worth living." A Ballboy Makes Good

Dan Maskell was born in London, about 500 yards away from the venerable Queens Club. At age 14, his father arranged for him to become a ballboy at the club.

"He believed that there was going to be a great boom in the sport following the war," Maskell said recently. "He thought the sport soon would be something the common man took part in and that there would be a great need for teachers. He wanted me to become a teacher."

It was prestigious to be a ballboy at Queens in those days. He was one of 30 on the staff and, in 1925 at age 17, he won the ballboys championship. A year later, he was hired by Queens as a junior pro.

Although his job was to teach, Maskell spent six hours a day playing. He won the pro World Championships in 1927 but points out that the 10 foreign entries never made it to London when they learned that their expenses would be paid only from their English port of entry. One year later, he challenged Charles Reed for the championship of Britain -- a major title at the time -- and beat him in a three-match series. That was the first of 16 times he won the championship.

By 1930, he was the pro at Wimbledon, teaching the members, playing with the top players when they came in to prepare before the championships. He also coached the Wightman Cup and Davis Cup teams.

Maskell is a big fan of Americans. "One thing I think people here fail to understand is the importance of Americans to Wimbledon," Maskell said. "If not for the Americans sending their best players here year after year, Wimbledon simply would not be Wimbledon."

There was no tennis at Wimbledon during World War II.

In 1939, the war came and Maskell went into the Air Force. He trained members of the Air Corps and then was sent to the Palace Hotel, home of England's only two indoor courts at the time. The hotel had been converted into a rehabilitation center. Maskell spent the rest of the war there and had the good fortune to have been sent away on a golf weekend by his commanding officer when the hotel was bombed in October 1945. The man who took Maskell's place that weekend was among those killed. Years later, Maskell persuaded the authorities to place a plaque in the hotel commemorating the work of those who worked and died there.

After the war, Maskell returned to Wimbledon. He retired as pro in 1955 but four years earlier he had started a new career as a commentator for the BBC. In the 37 Wimbledons since 1951, Maskell has been in the BBC booth every day. His low-key style is revered here. Every year, U.S. journalists here rave about his calm style in contrast to the frenetic Collins.

"People don't understand that Bud has to be entertaining on the air," said Maskell, who is a fan and friend of Collins. "That's the way American television is. I'm not paid to entertain. I'm paid to try to make the tennis a little more understandable."

Maskell has been struck twice by personal tragedy, first when his son was killed at the age of 25 in an airplane crash and then, in 1979, when his first wife drowned in a swimming accident off of Antigua. He remarried, at 73, to a lifelong friend.

"If a man must marry twice, no one can have done better than I have," he said softly. Man With Earring Joins the Club

Last Tuesday, upon the occasion of his 77th birthday, Ted Tinling was approached by Martina Navratilova, Chris Evert and Pam Shriver. They had with them a certificate, signed by 23 people. It was a trip around the world in a Concorde.

Tinling, a man of many words, was almost speechless. "I'll never use it, of course," he said. "But it will go into my collection of tennis memorabilia."

That night in his hotel room he wrote 23 thank-you notes.

Ted Tinling is very much a believer in doing the right thing. He has gotten in trouble in his life for being outspoken, for creating Gussie Moran's famous lace panties in 1949 and for being himself. Tinling has been a part of tennis for 64 years. In the 1920s, he was Suzanne Lenglen's umpire and his adoration of her has lived on well beyond her death. When people talk about Navratilova's record 74-match winning streak, Tinling shrugs and insists that Lenglen won 163 matches in a row between 1921 and 1926.

It is impossible not to notice Ted Tinling. He is 6 feet 4 and has an egg-shaped bald head, with a diamond earring in his left ear. His taste in clothes runs to pinks and maroons and bright white.

He is decidedly British and decidedly un-British. "I love stars and I love stardom," he said. "I think the English as a people shy away from stardom, but I don't. I like stars to be bitchy because, after all, we aren't looking for the girl next door in our stars, are we? We don't want them to be bland, do we?"

Tinling began working at Wimbledon in 1927, first as an umpire, then being assigned by the club to count the day's take each evening. He worked at Wimbledon until he became an uninvited guest because of the uproar Moran's lace panties caused in 1949. Wimbledon can hold a grudge with the best of them. It wasn't until 1981 that he was invited back.

"Remarkable place, Wimbledon," Tinling said. "I still have both letters I received asking me to work there, one from 1927 and one from 1981. They are almost identical.

"I really do regret the lace panties because I don't want to be remembered for what was considered my most vulgar work. But I probably will be most remembered for that. I think that's a shame because I did create many other things I thought quite beautiful."

Tinling was brought back in 1981 as a liaison between the club and players, as well as the press. He was made an honorary member of Wimbledon in 1983 for helping repair relations between John McEnroe and the club.

"That really did mean a great deal to me because at Wimbledon getting someone into the club who wears an earring simply isn't done unless it's discussed for centuries," he said. "Of course, I am 100 years old."

Tinling received another honor last year when the museum put on a retrospective of the tennis dresses he has created over the last 50 years. Tinling invited the current Wimbledon chairman, R.E.H. (Buzzer) Hadingham to the opening of the show and promised him that he would not include Moran's infamous outfit in the display.

"I didn't want to do anything to embarrass him or the club," Tinling said. "A couple of days later he called me back and said, 'Please include the Moran dress, it belongs. It's part of tennis history.' "

Tinling did. Collins on the Tennis Beat

The first day of Wimbledon 1985 had been a disaster. It had rained until 7 p.m. and only one match had been completed, that one at dusk. It was getting on towards midnight in the press room and a lot of unhappy people were trying to find something to write.

In the middle of the room Bud Collins was pounding out a column on Bud Schultz, who two days later would upset Aaron Krickstein. No one else had heard of Schultz.

Suddenly, someone looked up at Collins. "You realize this is all your fault? If it weren't for you, none of our papers would have sent us here. You invented Wimbledon, Collins."

And then the sportswriters began to boo Bud Collins. It was a moment he savors, for the boos were filled with affection.

Collins is the same off the air that he is on the air: enthusiastic, full of one-liners and the life of the party.

"I love the game," he said recently. "Maybe I'm a case of arrested development, but I still get excited before a match. I still get nervous before I do a final on television. I like being around it. I like seeing what will happen next."

Collins grew up with the sound of tennis balls being hit ringing in his ears. His father was the athletic director and football coach at Baldwin-Wallace University in Berea, Ohio, and the Collins' house was right behind the tennis court.

He played as a kid, but not much because there were only four courts in town. As a senior in high school, he formed a team and went on to play at Baldwin-Wallace. After graduation, his first newspaper job was at The Boston Herald.

"I started to go to Boston University to get a masters in public relations, but when I got there I realized I didn't have enough money," he said. "I went looking for some part-time work at a paper on the weekends and found it at The Herald. When I realized I could get hired, I lost interest in school."

When he was hired full time by The Globe, once of his first assignments was to cover the Massachusetts women's tennis championships. "The boss apologized to me," Collins said. "He said, 'I'm sorry to do this to you, but you're the new kid.' "

The new kid loved it and spent the next few years trying to con the sports editor into letting him cover more tennis. "They let me go to Forest Hills in 1956," he said. "Althea Gibson was a big story then. When she lost the final on Saturday, I called and told them that Lew Hoad was going for the Grand Slam on Sunday against Ken Rosewall. They said, 'Forget it, Gibson lost, you're done.' "

Collins' big break came in 1963 when a friend named Greg Harney, working at WGBH, the PBS station in Boston, decided to try televising a tennis clinic. He asked Collins to be the host. "We were terrible," Collins said. "But Harney called and said that, though he agreed it was horrible, others liked it. They wanted to do the national doubles from Longwood and asked if I would do it. I said sure."

He was paid $250 for the week.

In 1968, moments after he had finished televising the national amateur final at Longwood between Arthur Ashe and Bob Lutz, Collins got a call from CBS, which was televising the first U.S. Open the next week.

Collins did the Open for CBS for five years. In 1972, NBC hired him to do Wimbledon. That year, he did both Wimbledon and the Open -- for different networks. It was unprecedented and it hasn't happened since. The next year he chose NBC.

He has been criticized for being loud, too enthusiastic and for his giving people crazy nicknames. What people do not understand is that is simply his nature. Collins doesn't perform on the air. He plays himself.

Collins could have gone to TV full time years ago but chose to continue his newspaper writing. He still produces about 130 columns a year for the Globe -- including 26 travel columns -- and writes for two London newspapers and numerous magazines.Three Stories to Tell

Each man has a favorite story. Tinling's is about Lenglen, Collins' is funny and Maskell's touching.

Tinling: "It was in 1925 and Suzanne came in to play a match about an hour after Elizabeth Ryan had gone out to play. In those days at Wimbledon, players dressed in cubicles and left their clothes sitting there. Suzanne came in and found Elizabeth's clothes in what she considered her cubicle.

"So, she picked up Elizabeth's clothes and threw them out the window. She said later that she didn't realize they were Elizabeth's, but it didn't matter. Suzanne was a star and stars act like stars."

Collins: "This was in 1974 at the U.S. Pro at Longwood. It was 11:15 at night and I was upstairs writing. There was a doubles going on that didn't matter. Suddenly, I hear a ruckus, looked up and saw Nikki Spear, a fine fellow from Yugoslavia, literally be restrained from going over the net after {Ilie} Nastase.

"Spear was wild and screaming, and that wasn't like him. Then the umpire said, 'The match is over, Mr. Spear is retiring.' I thought who needs this at this hour, but I went off to the locker room and found Spear.

"I asked him what happened. He said: 'I feel very badly. I've never done that but you should have heard the words he was using. The things he called my mother, my wife. He made me crazy.'

"So, off I went to find Nastase. I walked in and he was on a training table. He saw me and said, 'So, Collini, you are going to persecute me, too, just like all the other bloody writers.' I said, 'Just tell me what happened, Ilie. He says you said awful things about his mother and his wife.'

"He said, 'Of course, I said those things. But I was speaking Italian. I suppose you are going to say it's my fault that Spear speaks Italian.' "

Maskell: "All the years I've worked on television I've tried to be absolutely fair in my judgments, regardless of who was playing. But I must admit that when Virginia Wade won here in 1977, it was something special, especially since I had known her since she was 15.

"When the match was ended, I remember saying, 'That's it, she's done it.' And I was fine. But when Virginia went out to receive her trophy from the Queen, my throat just caught. Since there are no speeches during the ceremonies, we must do the talking. I could hear my producer saying, 'Let's hear you, Dan,' but I couldn't speak. I just choked up.

"I can't pretend to be totally objective," he said. "I'm flesh and blood and I'm an Englishman."

For once, the man of few words could find no words.