As sporting venues go, Wimbledon's All England club is a monument of restraint, where smartly dressed fans "shhhhh" one another during critical points and reward exceptional shot-making with measured applause.
But the traditional rules of decorum fell by the wayside Sunday, when for only the third time in the tournament's 127-year history matches were played on the middle Sunday of the fortnight. It was the only way, officials concluded, to pare down the backlog of 114 matches created by last week's rainouts.
The upshot was "People's Sunday," in which coveted show-court tickets were sold at a discount to anyone dogged enough to join the miles-long queue. And it fell on the same day that Britain's Tim Henman played his third-round match on Centre Court. The convergence produced Wimbledon's version of a perfect tennis storm, in which regular blokes packed the game's most hallowed grounds and erupted in unbridled emotion from the moment Henman stepped onto the court until he strode off 2 hours 44 minutes later, a 7-6 (8-6), 6-4, 3-6, 6-2 victor over Morocco's Hicham Arazi.
"It's absolutely phenomenal," said Henman, who said he'd love to see "People's Sunday" become a regular feature at Wimbledon.
Henman's victory, which propelled him to a fourth-round meeting with Australia's Mark Philippoussis, was the ideal antidote to a British sports psyche that has been battered in recent days by its soccer team's loss to Portugal in the European Championship and its rugby team's drubbing at the hands of Australia.
People's Sunday proved even better for Americans Serena Williams, Andy Roddick, Jennifer Capriati and Vince Spadea, who cruised through rain-delayed third-round matches with straight-set victories.
Williams, the tournament's top seed, needed just 58 minutes to dismiss Spain's Magui Serna, 6-4, 6-0. Williams was particularly effective with her serve (hitting 67 percent of first serves). She was aggressive at the net and moved well, showing no effects from last summer's knee surgery. "I started actually playing grass-court tennis instead of clay court or hard court," said Williams, who's seeking her third consecutive Wimbledon title.
Roddick, the defending U.S. Open champion, remained on track for a potential meeting with Roger Federer in the final with a 6-3, 7-6 (8-6), 7-6 (7-1) victory over fellow American Taylor Dent. The hard-serving Dent has given Roddick trouble in the past, but each time he challenged on Sunday, Roddick answered decisively, clawing back from a 6-3 deficit in the second-set tiebreaker. Roddick notched 57 winners and just nine unforced errors, while firing 16 aces along the way. Just as significantly, he created chances to charge the net -- hardly his strong suit, but an imperative on grass -- and capitalized.
"I'm making progress over two years ago," Roddick said. "I'm not a finished article in any way, shape or form -- regardless of the surface. If I was sitting here extremely content with myself at 21, then I'd have to question myself."
Capriati, the tournament's seventh seed, easily handled Nathalie Dechy of France, 7-5, 6-1, and was just grateful to finally get to play after so many delays. "With the rain and everything, you sit around and it's hard to not just get sluggish and lose that quickness," she said.
The day's biggest surprise was the 30th-seeded Spadea, who knocked off eighth-seeded Rainer Schuettler of Germany, 6-4, 6-2, 6-3. Federer cruised also, dismissing Sweden's Thomas Johansson, 6-3, 6-4, 6-3.
Like Henman, Federer was struck by the enthusiasm of the fans, who were markedly younger and more vocal than the typical Wimbledon crowd. Most wore blue jeans instead of coats and ties, and many sported that disheveled look that comes with having spent the previous night on the sidewalk to make sure they got tickets.
While a limited number of tickets is set aside for same-day sale during the tournament, Sunday was the first day since 1997 (the last People's Sunday) that an entire day's allotment was sold to first-comers the morning of the matches. Fans started forming lines Saturday afternoon, the moment it was announced that 11,000 Centre Court seats, 10,000 seats at Court No. 1 and 7,000 general admission tickets would go on sale Sunday for roughly $64, $55 and $27.50, respectively.
Most came to cheer on Henman and sported their loyalty in the form of Union Jack hats, T-shirts, capes and flags. They cheered Henman's every point, whether earned by skill or freakish luck. They pulled him through tight spots of the match, jumping to their feet to do "the wave" when he appeared flat. And they sent him off with prolonged cheers and a standing ovation.
"This is different, there's no doubting that," Henman said later. "They're true fans to be out there queuing. I'm sure there's going to be a debate whether this should happen, you know, every year. . . . But from a playing point of view, it's a privilege."