You could hear televisions clicking off all over England today when the BBC started its coverage of Wimbledon. Instead of the highly anticipated Davis Cup rematch of American Jim Courier and British favorite Tim Henman, the network was airing a taped replay of a partial fourth-round match between Karol Kucera and Cedric Pioline. Not that the BBC had much choice -- the network already had re-run the more glamorous fourth-round matches during a rain delay the day before, and it certainly wasn't getting any live tennis to show.
For the second straight day, rain clouds parked themselves over the grounds of the All England club, and unlike Monday, when organizers had been able to sneak in a few matches, today was a total loss. More than 29,000 fans showed up anyway, waiting more than six hours until play was canceled. The crowd's only reward came and went around 2:30 p.m., when Courier and Henman walked onto Centre Court for a brief warmup.
Their match had been scheduled for Monday, but twice was interrupted by rain and finally postponed with Henman leading, 4-6, 7-5, 7-5, 4-3. They barely had begun exchanging practice balls today when raindrops began to fall again, evoking a groan from the crowd. Courier and Henman went back to the locker room, the tarp went back over the grass court and the fans scurried back under their umbrellas.
"It's hard when you go out and come back," said Gustavo Kuertan, who finished his fourth-round match on Monday just before the rain started. "I think it's bad if it keeps raining for four or five days in a row; then the courts change a little bit."
Before Monday this had been regarded as a strikingly dry Wimbledon. But raindrops began falling around dusk Saturday, causing a few matches to be postponed. Although no play was scheduled for the traditional middle Sunday, the tournament was disturbed by showers that began passing through with regularity on Monday. Play was called for good late Monday afternoon and has not resumed since.
Today marked the first time that an entire day was washed out since 1997, when two days were lost. The weather forecast for Wednesday is drier, although rain is expected again on Thursday.
The conflict between the WTA Tour and the family of American Alexandra Stevenson is escalating. WTA Tour chief Bart McGuire has written a letter to Stevenson's mother, Samantha, criticizing comments she made to the London media over the weekend. Samantha Stevenson, a white professional sports journalist, had discussed racism faced by Alexandra, whose father is black. Samantha also told of the protective attitude she was taking during Alexandra's first year as a professional, saying she wanted to prevent Alexandra from being hurt by "the other girls" in the locker room. The tabloids took her comments to mean that she was protecting Alexandra from being approached by lesbian players, although today Stevenson said her comments had in fact referred to the backbiting that goes on in the locker room.
McGuire's letter expressed concern that the newspaper stories had hurt the tour. Samantha Stevenson was upset at what she felt were inaccuracies in McGuire's letter, as well as its critical tone.
"They know I did not make disparaging comments about the tour," Stevenson said while sitting in the players' restaurant, watching Alexandra play a game of cards. She said she plans to respond to the letter, either personally or through her lawyer.
"We pride ourselves on our diversity, openness and competitive spirit," McGuire said in a statement. "That being said, we are disappointed that assertions have been made in the press and not to the tour. If any assertions of racism are presented to the tour, we will look into them."
A Hampshire judge caused a bit of a stir today by postponing a sexual assault trial by six months so he can start his scheduled vacation Friday by attending Wimbledon. Judge Patrick Hooton awarded bail to the trial's defendant, who is accused of assaulting four teenage boys. Hooton was concerned that if he started the trial today it would not finish by Friday. His vacation had been scheduled for several months.
"In normal circumstances I would have taken time out of my holiday -- everyone knows my devotion to duty," Hooton said. "But it's the tickets to Wimbledon -- I am never likely to get the chance of them again." . . .
The rain today likely was most vexing to Steffi Graf, who had been achingly close to finishing off her fourth-round match against Belgium's Kim Clijsters when play was called Monday. Graf, who is up, 6-2, 4-2, on Clijsters, also is trying to finish off a mixed-doubles match she and John McEnroe started on Saturday. McEnroe wasn't sure of his and Graf's chances in the mixed-doubles draw. But he was sure about Graf's success against the 16-year-old Clijsters, and made reference to Graf's emotional victory over 18-year-old Martina Hingis in the French Open final: "Steffi's going to mentally destroy another teenager. Hingis is already a basket case."
When: Through Sunday.
Where: All England club, Wimbledon.
Defending champions: Pete Sampras, Jana Novotna.
Top seeds: Sampras, Martina Hingis.
Today's TV: 10 a.m. WRC-4, WBAL-11; noon and 7 p.m., HBO.
Today's featured matches: Men -- Sampras (1), United States, vs. Daniel Nestor, Canada; Boris Becker, Germany, vs. Patrick Rafter (2), Australia; Jim Courier, United States, vs. Tim Henman (6), Britain; Todd Martin (8), United States, vs. Goran Ivanisevic (10), Croatia; Greg Rusedski (9), Britain, vs. Mark Philippoussis (7), Australia. Women -- Kim Clijsters, Belgium, vs. Steffi Graf (2), Germany; Venus Williams (6), United States, vs. Anna Kournikova (17), Russia.