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Another washout at Wimbledon; Sunday matches possible

June 27, 1997

WIMBLEDON, England (AP) _ Wimbledon was all wet again Friday.

Relentless rain at the All England Club reached historic proportions, and officials reluctantly prepared to break with tradition and schedule play Sunday if the forecast looks good.

Showers spoiled an entire session for the second consecutive day, and Wimbledon fell more than 200 matches behind schedule, making this the wettest first week ever.

The only other consecutive washouts in the tournament’s 121-history occurred in 1909, also on the first Thursday and Friday.

With only two matches completed since Wednesday, 32 players were still waiting to play first-round matches. Wimbledon is now farther behind schedule than in 1991, the only time matches were held on the first Sunday.

That session ranks among Wimbledon’s most memorable, attracting a youthful, boisterous crowd of nearly 25,000. They gave the ballboys and ballgirls a standing ovation, counted warmup strokes out loud and reveled in a rare chance to set foot inside the very proper All England Club.

After clearing logistical hurdles, the tournament apparently is braced for a repeat.

``Everyone with whom we have consulted has been most understanding and cooperative,″ club chief executive Christopher Gorringe said. ``We will now have to see what the weather will be for Sunday before we make the final decision.″

The forecast said more showers were likely Saturday, with gradual clearing Sunday.

Attendance Thursday and Friday totaled 56,000, and they didn’t see a shot. Dismal conditions that have plagued Wimbledon this week actually turned worse Friday _ windy and chilly with pelting rain that blew sideways.

The souvenir shop again was busy, and Centre Court spectators again serenaded themselves while waiting for a break in the clouds that never came. The worse the weather got, the louder they sang, and BBC Radio congratulated the fans on their ``Dunkirk spirit.″

The session was postponed at 6:31 p.m. following a wait of 7 1/2 hours.

``We’re sorry for another very frustrating day,″ Gorringe told the crowd.

Only 94 matches have been played. Without the delays, about 300 would have been completed. In 1991, generally considered the wettest first week in tournament history, 123 matches were completed by Friday.

Among those yet to hit a ball is touted 17-year-old American Venus Williams, whose Wimbledon debut has been delayed five days by rain. She killed time by paying visits to two other local landmarks, the Tower of London and the London Dungeon.

``I’m not frustrated at all,″ Williams said. ``I think maybe a lot of other players are, but I’m just fine.″

The delays tested even the renowned patience of the British, including England’s No. 1 player, Tim Henman.

``There’s only a certain amount of practices you can have, lunches you can have, games of backgammon you can have,″ he said. ``And I do feel sorry for all the people that are outside, because it is so frustrating for them, and standing out in the rain is probably not what they wanted to do.″

At this point, fans and players alike are rooting for sunshine.

Good weather Sunday would help the tournament catch up with the schedule, and players can expect matches on consecutive days next week. Even so, the tournament is likely to stretch into a third week.

Defending men’s champion Richard Krajicek, for one, said he could fit an extra day or two at Wimbledon into his schedule _ especially to play in the final again.

``I had a holiday planned,″ he said, ``but OK, for Wimbledon, I’ll make an exception and stay.″

``I would be delighted if I was still here on the third Monday,″ Henman said. ``I would not be so pleased if we were still in the first round.″

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