TENNIS: Dark goings-on as day ends in farce

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WIMBLEDON DESCENDED into gloomy farce last night as organisers struggled to fit matches into a championships blighted by bad weather. Many ticket-holders will have gone home yesterday unaware that play continued on courts they occupied vainly for much of the day.

A programme of intermittent play appeared to have closed just after 5pm when yet another squall blew into SW19. Alan Mills, the tournament referee, inspected Court Two and declared it unfit for play. "It's soaking," he said.

The women's quarter-final match between the teenage qualifiers Jelena Dokic and Alex Stevenson appeared to be at an end. Tim Henman's contest with Cedric Pioline was also closed on Court One. The electronic scoreboard revealed there would be no further play.

However, at around 8pm, as orange lanterns shone out above a relatively deserted Wimbledon, play was called back on, and Steffi Graf completed a 6-2, 3-6, 6-4 victory over Venus Williams on Centre Court. The American later described the conditions as the darkest in which she had played. "When we went out it was pretty dark," confirmed Graf. "It started drizzling but they kept us out there."

Nathalie Tauziat and Mirjana Lucic also continued their game, on Court 18, though it was later revealed that Lucic had turned down an offer to switch to Court One. With Henman's match in its infancy, organisers then tried to squeeze Dokic and Stevenson into that arena.

The announcement had spectators charging over from Centre Court after Graf's victory. Bodies swarmed around as the players knocked up in a strengthening drizzle. At 8.19 Dokic found her way to the umpire's chair and brought the sorry proceedings to an end. "I can't play in this light," she said. "I can't see the ball."

Graf's reward, page 30, Henman on hold, page 31