Tennis: Window on Wimbledon

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THE SPECTATORS were getting better practice for Wimbledon than the players yesterday. As rain drove the Nottingham Open competitors to the soulless echoes of indoor carpet courts, 200 or so of the paying public, denied access to where the action was taking place, sat in the damp seats of an empty Centre Court to watch plastic court covers billowing in the wind.

Hardly memorable scenes of sporting drama, but they still stared intently, ice-creams and soggy crepes in hand, mindful of how useful these hours of rain training would be when the real storms inevitably fall when Wimbledon starts tomorrow.

A few had gathered at a thick window to catch glimpses of the tennis, but the majority stuck defiantly to the seats they had paid for, waiting for occasional updates on the scores from a public address system.

At 3.30 they were informed that Jonas Bjorkman of Sweden had beaten France's Jerome Golmard 6-2 2-6 6-3 in the second semi-final and would now play Zimbabwe's Byron Black, a 6-4 6-2 winner over Armenian Sargis Sargisian, in a final which they optimistically hoped to start, outside, on the grass, in an hour or so. They could even watch this match.

Nottingham is not seen as such a strong Wimbledon form guide as the preceding tournament at Queen's. But the latter was won by Scott Draper, a man with a played three, lost three Wimbledon record, and this final was contested by two players with merely one fourth round All England appearance between them, so the results this year are almost irrelevant in terms of predicting a Wimbledon winner.

That may be a bit harsh on Bjorkman as he is ranked nine in the world, volleys superbly and can disarm many a sonic serve with aggressive and reliable ground strokes from both flanks. But the fact remains that previous winners of the Nottingham Open (Rusedski, Siemerink and Frana) have never gone on to win Wimbledon.