WIMBLEDON, England – Claps of thunder and streaks of lightning accompanied Venus Williams and Maria Sharapova off tiny Court 3 after they managed to play all of three points at Wimbledon on Tuesday.
As they headed for the locker room, the drizzle became a downpour, sending everyone scurrying across the grounds in a mad dash for cover: players toting racket bags, officials wearing smart blue blazers, spectators cradling cups of strawberries.
At least Williams, Sharapova and others whose matches were suspended in progress – including 2006 runner-up
Rafael Nadal, tied 4-4 in the fifth set of a match originally slated for Saturday – know they will play another day at the All England Club.
Not Amelie Mauresmo. Outplayed and unnerved by someone a decade younger, Mauresmo walked off Centre Court with head bowed and nary a wave to the crowd.
, her title defense done in the fourth round. Mauresmo’s 14 double-faults and several shanked shots contributed to her departure, as did the big-hitting Czech teen Nicole Vaidisova, who reached her first Wimbledon quarterfinal with a 7-6 (6), 4-6, 6-1 victory interrupted three times by rain.
“Everything,” Mauresmo said, “went wrong today.”
That sentiment was shared by tournament organizers, confronted with a growing backlog of matches: 177 total, including 13 in singles. “It’s ghastly. It’s a serious situation and one of great concern,” tournament referee Andrew Jarrett said.
. “We will endeavor to complete the championships on time.”
A retractable roof is coming to Centre Court – but not until 2009. So play has been delayed, suspended or stopped by rain on seven of eight days so far – with light showers predicted for Wednesday. Only seven singles matches were completed Tuesday, including No. 3 Jelena Jankovic’s 3-6, 7-5, 6-3 loss to No. 18 Marion Bartoli.
“So many breaks,” Jankovic said. “It’s not the best thing, and you’re not going to see the best tennis, because players are mentally drained.”
French Open runner-up Ana Ivanovic beat Nadia Petrova 6-1, 2-6, 6-4 and now meets Vaidisova, while 2004 U.S. Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova eliminated 16-year-old Tamira Paszek 6-3, 6-2. Kuznetsova’s quarterfinal opponent will be three-time Wimbledon winner Williams or 2004 champion Sharapova.
Williams-Sharapova was scheduled for 13,791-capacity Centre Court, but was shifted to 800-capacity Court 3 as rain came and went during a total of six delays Tuesday.
They arrived at the court at 4:57 p.m., and began playing at 5:06 p.m., right when thunder began to boom in the background. Williams took a 30-15 lead before, after a single minute of competition, play was suspended.
Nearly 11/2 hours later, Williams peeked through a window while chatting on a cell phone, watching the rain fall. Eventually, with hail coming down, players were told they could leave.
Williams and Sharapova were moved back to Centre Court for Wednesday.
“This is getting ridiculous,” said Martina Navratilova, who won nine Wimbledon singles titles. “Players coming on the court, off the court.”
None moreso than three-time French Open champion Nadal and his opponent, No. 28 Robin Soderling. They first set foot on Court 1 Saturday afternoon and warmed up, but rain made them leave without playing a point. After the traditional middle Sunday off, Nadal and Soderling started Monday.
Nadal held a match point in the third set but missed a forehand wide. He challenged the call, was wrong, and that’s when – big shock! – a rain delay came. When they resumed, Soderling won that set and the fourth, too. They had to stop with Nadal leading 2-0 in the fifth, a deficit Soderling erased Tuesday before another suspension.
When Nadal left the All England Club on Tuesday evening, the hood of his white sweat shirt was pulled tight over his head, protection from, appropriately, a shower.
Now, on Wednesday, when one or the other could have been playing in the quarterfinals, Nadal and Soderling will trudge once again to Court 1 and hope to end their third-round match.
At least two-time finalist Andy Roddick is already in the fourth round, and he was up a set and a break against Paul-Henri Mathieu when they were sent home Tuesday.
In matches that did finish, 2003 French Open champion Juan Carlos Ferrero eliminated Janko Tipsarevic to reach a quarterfinal against Roger Federer. The four-time defending champion, off since Friday, and Ferrero are the only men in the final eight.
Lleyton Hewitt, who won Wimbledon in 2002, beat No. 22 Guillermo Canas, and No. 6 Nikolay Davydenko defeated Gael Monfils 6-3, 7-5, 6-3 in the third round.
“That’s the longest and toughest rain-delayed match I’ve ever had to put up with,” Hewitt said. “It was a mental battle more than anything.”
Mauresmo and Vaidisova began playing shortly after 11 a.m., two hours earlier than usual on Centre Court, because of weather problems earlier in the tournament. Most of the green seats were empty, and those fans in attendance saw an awfully tight performance by Mauresmo.
She served for the first set at 5-3, but got broken. In the tiebreaker, she led 6-3, but lost five consecutive points. Mauresmo turns 28 on Thursday, while Vaidisova is all of 18, but the youngster showed more resolve down the stretch.
Asked afterward what was going through her mind, Mauresmo uttered an obscenity.
Vaidisova, meanwhile, was all smiles on a day others found trying.
“It was kind of tiring. You walk all those stairs up to the locker room and back,” she said. “But, you know, you have to get used to it. You sit there, you wait, you talk to your dad or someone for a second. You go on again.”