LONDON -- Before we get to the tennis, let's address the crucial issue for arriving safely at Wimbledon: When you get to a corner, for heaven's sake look to your right. The traffic's coming at you from the other way, gang. The Other Way! Looking left can result in what we in the tennis game call not getting into the draw.
Okay. Here we are then with four days to go in this fortnight. So what's new? Pam Shriver's in the semifinals, that's new. She beat Helena Sukova, 10-8, in the third on Wednesday after beating Sylvia (Happy) Hanika, 10-8, in the third on Tuesday. She geting paid by the game? A curious career: Shriver, noted diarist and George Bush's doubles partner, hasn't played in the semifinals of a Grand Slam event since 1983. She's been ranked in and around the top five in women's tennis for almost a decade now, but all she ever seems to win are English grass court tournaments three weeks before Wimbledon. In Grand Slams, she's De Paul: Out quick, thanks for coming, drive home safely. Shriver's problem is she needs quick feet and she has large feet, which is what happens when you order by catalog.
And what's old? Jimbo's old. He's 34, and he's in the semifinals. He got there by beating Slobodan Zivojinovic, which is pronounced just like it looks. Chrissie's old. She's 32, and she's in the semifinals, too. They've been playing this tune since 1974. They were engaged then and both won here as "The Love Double." Now, Jimbo's married to a former Playmate of the Year, and Chrissie's on the loose, dating someone referred to in tabloids here only as "Andy The Hunk." Time sure flies when you're having fun. (You gotta love the tabs' idea of world news: How many headless torsos have been stuffed into the trunks of cars across Europe, and what's new with Don Johnson in Hollywood?)
What's borrowed? Ivan Lendl of the Greenwich, Conn., Lendls and Bobby-Sue Navratilova of the Dallas Navratilovas. Just a couple of American kids doing the best they can. Anything blue? How about the side of Mikael Pernfors' head? Will you get a load of this guy? How much Akvavit has he been tippling? Sweden's answer to The Boz dyed some of his hair blue and some of his hair yellow -- Sweden's national colors -- for Davis Cup and lost anyway. Then he comes here, and Jimbo spots him two sets and blows him off the highway. Blue? Hard to tell, he hasn't taken the bucket off his head yet.
Let's take a break from tennis now and talk about some of the great traditions here at Wimbledon. Like strawberries and cream. You get between six 'nd eight of them in a cup for one pound, 50 pence. At Wednesday's $1.61 exchange rate, that's $2.40 American. For the money it costs you to get full you could buy a Yugo. I think buying a pint at the Giant and curling up with a container of Cool Whip is a better deal. And how about the tradition of the queue? Nobody waits in line as long and as well as the English. Sometimes they get so confused by not having to queue up that they'll stop in the middle of the sidewalk, stand still and look around aimlessly just to keep in practice. That's when you can tell the Brits from the Americans. The Brits are the ones in the Hard Rock Cafe sweatshirts being bumped into; the Americans are the ones in the Hard Rock Cafe sweatshirts doing the bumping.
The English don't ask much. Just a queue, a couple of hours without rain each day, and that one of their tennis players would get to the second round. They're ever so civil. At the Southfields underground station it says gently: "Alight Here For Wimbledon Tennis." They don't tell you: No Smoking. Indeed, they actually say: "Please Keep Smoking To A Minimum," as if maybe you'd only inhale. (Might I take a second, though, to talk about the food? England is about 20 miles across the Channel from France. Why don't they have a cooking exchange program? The British idea of rare is meat that's only been in the oven for two months. With dishes called kidney pie and blood pudding on a menu it's no wonder so many restaurants stop serving at 9.)
Back to tennis: Don't you love those advertising patches the players wear on their sleeves? Tennis players would gleefully sell ads on every inch of their clothing; no doubt their idols are auto racers. (Mats Wilander, in the true spirit of sportsmanship, has threatened not to play tennis in the 1988 Olympics, listing as one reason, "We can't wear patches.") Singles looking for dates should rent patch space on players' sleeves and sew on a photo and a toll-free 800 number. FYI: Peter Doohan's sleeve was still vacant on Tuesday.
Overheard here much too often: "Grass is the great equalizer." Jimbo, Chrissie and Lendl say it every day. What are they talking about? Have you seen this grass? It's so brown, so chewed up and pitted, Chemlawn wouldn't touch it with a 10-foot rake. You have it on your lawn, your neighbors ask you to move. "I never look at the draw. I play them one match at a time." Jimbo and Pat Cash have been saying that the most. Any player who says he doesn't read the draw is either a liar or illiterate. "I lost my concentration." Deliver me from this baby. No tennis player is ever beaten, they just lose their concentration. It could be 6-0, 6-0, 6-0 and it's not that the other guy was a serial killer, it's a loss of concentration. They're like boxers. There's never been a losing boxer who wasn't flat on his back for a 10-count who didn't say he got robbed. And one phrase we haven't yet gotten out of our system: "Game, Set, Match, Connors."