Graf keeps date with Sanchez Vicario

WIMBLEDON 96: Frustration for men's semi-finals as rain delays a finish in one and a start in the other

It was not yet noon, and the sun was still teasing us. Steffi Graf had completed her overtime, a final set to defeat Kimiko Date, 6-2, 2-6, 6- 3, and was ready to nurse her sinuses. Arantxa Sanchez Vicario had practised and was resting in preparation to renew her rivalry with Graf in the women's singles final today.

Meanwhile, the four men whose names almost escaped everyone en route to the semi-finals were wondering how long the weather would hold. Eleven days at Wimbledon had reinforced their faith in taking one match at a time, though not necessarily in the space of 24 hours.

Todd Martin, the last seed on the lawns, and his American compatriot MaliVai Washington were sent out to make the best of it. The Dutchman Richard Krajicek and Australia's Jason Stoltenberg, conquerors of Pete Sampras and Goran Ivanisevic respectively, waited and hoped.

They will be back at 11am today, Martin and Washington to play a fifth set on the Centre Court (the women's final is not due to start before 2pm) and Krajicek and Stoltenberg switched to Court No 1. Fingers crossed, the weather forecast is more optimistic.

Martin tried to push things along yesterday, winning the opening three games against Washington, but his nerve seemed to tighten when he served for the set at 5-3.

Although broken at this stage, Martin regained the initiative and secured a lead, 7-5, but Washington had been encouraged to make the running in the second set.

In common with his opponent, Washington experienced difficulty when it came to serving out the set. Martin saved the first of three set points at 4-5 with a cross-court forehand. On the second, Washington found the net with a forehand.

When Martin hit a forehand wide to leave a third set point hanging, a spectator shouted, "Come on, Washington!" "OK," Washington said, glancing up, and proceeded to terminate a brief rally with a smash for 6-4.

Although Martin took a 4-1 lead in the third set, he was broken when serving for set at 5-3, a forehand clipping the net cord and drifting wide. A confident cross-court backhand created a set point for Martin in the next game, but Washington served it away with an ace.

By now, clouds were gathering, and the rain first began to spit during the tie-break. Washington asked the umpire to request the crowd to be quiet during rallies - such as they were - but he was unable to capitalise on a 3-1 lead.

He did, however, fight off two more set points when serving at 3-6, and Martin subsequently double-faulted on a fourth opportunity. Composing himself, Martin immediately delivered an ace to create a fifth set point, and he converted this one with a powerful service return for 8-6.

Play was then suspended for the first time, for 35 minutes, after which Washington appeared to return to the court the more eager. He pounced on his opponent's rare loose serves, and was the beneficiary of Martin's tendency to be tentative with his volleys.

A combination of these factors cost Martin the fourth set, 3-6, and enabled Washington to square the match. Having denied his opponent four game points at 3-2, Washington passed him with a forehand return off a second serve to give himself a break point. And when Martin again missed his first serve, Washington's return unnerved him into hitting a backhand volley over the baseline.

They had been playing for two hours and 43 minutes, and the result was still in the balance - 7-5, 4-6, 7-6, 3-6 - when further rain caused play to be abandoned at 7.35pm.

The All England Club again did its best to entertain the dampened Centre Court spectators - showtime with Sir Cliff Richard on Wednesday, an audience with Sir Peter Ustinov yesterday. Who next, Michael Fish?

More reports, results, page 27

Unseeded Mens' Singles finalists

1930 Bill Tilden (US) (2) bt Wilmer Allison (US) 6-3 9-7 6-4.

1953 Vic Seixas (US) (2) bt Kurt Nielsen (Den) 9-7 6-3 6-4.

1955 Tony Trabert (US) (1) bt Kurt Nielsen (Den) 6-3 7-5 6-1.

1959 Alex Olemedo (US) (1) bt Rod Laver (Aus) 6-4 6-3 6-4.

1962 Rod Laver (Aus) (1) bt Martin Mulligan (Aus) 6-2 6-2 6-1.

1963 Chuck McKinley (US) (4) bt Fred Stolle (Aus) 9-7 6-1 6-4.

1967 John Newcombe (Aus) (3) bt Wilhelm Bungert (Ger) 6-3 6-1 6-1.

1983 John McEnroe (US) (2) bt Chris Lewis (NZ) 6-2 6-2 6-2.

1985 Boris Becker (WG) bt Kevin Curren (SA) (11) 6-3 6-7 7-6 6-4.

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