Sunday best at Wimbledon

Posted: Monday, June 28, 2004

WIMBLEDON, England The sounds of People's Sunday rang through Centre Court.

Rhythmic clapping and stomping. Chants of ''Hen-man! Hen-man!'' Screams of ''Come on, Tim!'' And that was two hours before Tim Henman set foot on the grass.

Wearing T-shirts and shorts, adorned with red wigs and Union Jack bowler hats, the hoi polloi flocked to Wimbledon to snap up first-come, first-served tickets, relishing just the third time in 127 years that matches were played on the middle Sunday.

Buoyed by the support, Henman moved on in his career-long quest to give Britain its first male champion at the All England Club since 1936, reaching the round of 16 by beating No. 32 Hicham Arazi 7-6 (6), 6-4, 3-6, 6-2.

''When you walk out on the court, just the buzz and the excitement is incredible,'' the fifth-seeded Henman said. ''I needed it at times.''

Also into the fourth round: two-time defending champion Serena Williams, who smacked 11 aces and beat Magui Serna 6-4, 6-0; and Karolina Sprem, who built on her upset of Venus Williams by defeating No. 32 Meghann Shaughnessy 7-6 (5), 7-6 (2).

When the one gate used Sunday opened at 9 a.m., most near the front of the 10,000-person queue bought seats in the main stadium generally taken by the blue blazer set.

The turnout of 22,155 left nearly 6,000 tickets unsold. That, along with extensive security checks at the entrance, made for an eerie quiet around the grounds when action began at 11 a.m. Front-row seats were available, and there weren't packs of people to wade through while walking from court to court.

Eager to play after Saturday's all-day rainout, the second of the tournament, defending champion Roger Federer and Thomas Johansson stepped out for the Centre Court opener five minutes early. The stadium was two-thirds full at the beginning of Federer's 6-3, 6-4, 6-3 win and packed for Henman's match but it was desolate elsewhere.

Andy Roddick and Jennifer Capriati played to intimate gatherings.

''This whole week's been wacky. Why not today, too?'' Roddick said after beating No. 26 Taylor Dent 6-3, 7-6 (6), 7-6 (1).

It was a bit of a shame, actually, that so few witnessed Federer's next foe, 6-foot-10 Ivo Karlovic, use his serve the one that confounded Lleyton Hewitt last year to accumulate 39 aces in a victory over No. 18 Feliciano Lopez. Or observe Joachim Johansson's 38 aces in his win over No. 17 Jonas Bjorkman.

Or see No. 8 Rainer Schuettler upset 6-4, 6-2, 6-3 by Vince Spadea, whose previous Wimbledon highlight was beating Greg Rusedski in 2000 to end a 21-match losing streak.

''It was funny,'' Spadea said, ''because I was thinking: 'Here it is the third round of Wimbledon, and I could just as easily be playing a practice match on a random grass court.'''

About 100 people were there for the start of No. 7 Capriati's 7-5, 6-1 victory over Nathalie Dechy. They were rowdy, though.

''I was surprised that it was a little bit empty when I first went out there, but I guess it was just taking a while for them to get in,'' said Capriati, next up against No. 10 Nadia Petrova, who beat her at last year's French Open.

''There was a difference in the atmosphere. They really feel honored to be there, almost.''



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