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Archive for Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Wimbledon washed away by rain

Hingis starts strong, but weather wipes out opening day

June 27, 2006

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— Martina Hingis played at Wimbledon for the first time since 2001, and it was as though she never left. Those crafty strokes. Well-timed net rushes. And rain.

Ah, yes, rain.

Day 1 at the All England Club began with sprinkles that delayed the start of the tournament for an hour. After about 30 minutes of action Monday, time enough for Hingis to win the first set against Olga Savchuk of Ukraine, 6-2, rain returned and halted play for good.

"I don't like Wimbledon," said Hingis' mother and coach, Melanie Molitor. Then she sighed, motioned toward the sky and added, "The weather."

A drizzle grew to a downpour by mid-afternoon, when organizers began postponing matches. Only 17 of 64 scheduled matches got underway, with zero completed. Because of the backlog, some players originally slated to debut today - including defending champion Venus Williams and No. 1-seeded Amelie Mauresmo - won't get on court until Wednesday, at the earliest.

Tuesday's forecast calls for afternoon showers.

Rain at Wimbledon hardly is surprising, of course, but southern England has been dealing with a drought that prompted authorities to tell people not to water their gardens.

With thick cloud cover, defending champion Roger Federer was the first player on Centre Court, and what an entrance he made.

Bidding for what would be a record 42nd consecutive victory on grass, Federer draped his jacket on the back of his chair, then started against Richard Gasquet of France with an ace, followed by a double-fault. Federer held serve, then broke Gasquet, who appeared tentative on the slippery grass.

Federer won the set 6-3, closing with an ace, and was about to serve trailing 2-1 in the second when the rain returned.

He wasn't the only one with new threads: On-court officials and ball kids wore blue outfits under a new $10 million deal with Polo Ralph Lauren Corp., the first outside company in the tournament's 129-year history to design the uniforms.

Another innovation coming to the sport's most tradition-devoted event: a retractable roof on Centre Court. Alas, that's not projected to be in place until 2009; signs detailing the construction timeline dot the grounds. It'll help at a tournament that last went without rain in 1995.

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