Women face off today, men wait until Monday

Rain delays Wimbledon

Posted: Sunday, July 08, 2001

WIMBLEDON, England -- When Venus Williams first came to Wimbledon four years ago, rain delayed her debut for five days, and then she lost in the opening round.

On Saturday, with the stakes much higher, she played the waiting game again -- but no tennis. Williams sat through an afternoon of persistent drizzle before her final against Belgian Justine Henin was postponed until Sunday.

Williams' father and coach, Richard, said his daughter didn't seem fazed by the delay in her bid for a second successive Wimbledon title.

''Venus is the type of person, it seems nothing bothers her,'' he said. ''And if it did, you would never know it.''

Patrick Rafter awaited an opponent for the men's final, which also was postponed one day. It will start on a Monday for the first time since at least 1922, weather permitting, and forecasters predict no rain the next two days.

The only tennis Saturday was the resumption of the men's semifinal between beloved Briton Tim Henman and three-time runner-up Goran Ivanisevic. But Wimbledon fans, who have waited 63 years to cheer for an Englishman in the final, were forced to wait a little longer.

Henman and Ivanisevic started their match Friday and squeezed in another 52 minutes of play Saturday before the rain resumed. They were on serve in the fifth set with Ivanisevic leading 7-5, 6-7 (6), 0-6, 7-6 (5), 3-2.

At 5-5 the fourth-set tiebreaker, Henman was two points from victory, but Ivanisevic pulled out the set with an ace and a stinging service return. Their match was scheduled to resume at 8 a.m. EDT Sunday, with the women's final to follow.

Aside from the brief interlude of tennis, Centre Court fans settled for entertainment by the band of the Welsh Guards, which played ''Copacabana,'' march music and other rousing tunes.

Former President Clinton, making his first visit to Wimbledon, sat in the royal box watching the rain fall as he was interviewed over the public-address system.

''It's England. It has to rain sometimes,'' Clinton said.

The former president, who attended the U.S. Open last year and the French Open last month, had come to Wimbledon hoping to cheer on fellow American Williams.

''She's a magnificent talent,'' he said. ''She looks like a gazelle on the court. Never seen anything like it; may never see anything like it again.''

Before the tournament, Williams said she was braced for rain delays after her frustrating experience in 1997. Saturday put her to the test.

She arrived at the club in the morning and hit for 30 minutes, but drizzle forced her to finish indoors. When the rain became heavier, she left the club for a house her family is renting, then returned to the club when the weather briefly improved.

Richard Williams walked the grounds, visited wheelchair tennis players and posed for photos with fans, while his daughter kept mostly to herself in the locker room.

''Venus is taking it easy,'' the elder Williams said. ''She's ready to go.''

Eventually she went home for good.

Henin practiced for 30 minutes, exercised in the gym, chatted with her coach and snacked in anticipation of playing.

Rafter was also on hold. Tournament officials finally decided to push the men's final back a day after consulting with Henman and Ivanisevic.

''The two of them voted for a Monday final, and Pat agreed,'' tournament referee Alan Mills said.

It's the 15th time since 1919 that Wimbledon has been extended because of rain, almost always for doubles. Last year Williams and her sister Serena won the women's doubles title on Monday.

The sun briefly peaked through low, slow-moving clouds shortly before Henman and Ivanisevic took the court after a 4 1/2-hour wait. Otherwise the sky was so drab that even their white outfits appeared dingy.



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