A nation in suspense

Wimbledon 2001: All England caught out by wrong sort of weather. Now Henman the history man has Monday on his mind.
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The Independent Online

Appalling weather wrecked what should have been a showpiece day at Wimbledon yesterday, forcing the postponement of the women's final until this afternoon and the men's final until tomorrow. The rain was so persistent that the men's semi-final between Tim Henman and Goran Ivanisevic, driven off court by rain on Friday in the fourth set, could not be completed either.

The tournament referee Alan Mills announced the delay to the most important final in the men's game after consulting Pat Rafter, who has already reached the final, and Henman and Ivanisevic. "When I spoke to both semi-finalists I got the same answer," said Mills. "They both said 'When I win I will play the final on Monday'. I phoned Pat. All I got was 'G'day mate, when do I play?' When I told him Monday, he said 'Thank you, I don't mind when I play'." Wimbledon's normal unflappability was severely tested by the need for hasty rescheduling, with Mills insisting his preference for a Monday men's final and executives of the All England Club stressing they hoped to finish the tournament on time.

Only 51 minutes were possible before Henman's match was postponed once more, with Croatia's Ivanisevic having won the fourth set on a tiebreak and leading 3-2 in the deciding set. All spectators will be offered a full refund since less than an hour's play was possible.

With Henman and Ivanisevic scheduled to resume at 1pm today and the women's final between the defending champion, Venus Williams, and Belgian teenager Justine Henin to go on court "not before 2pm", Mills claimed initially the men's final could be started as late as 5pm. "That would be a reasonable time," he said. "I assume we are not going to have a three-hour ladies' final. That hasn't happened for a long time."

Following 11 days of mainly perfect weather the All England Club were caught out by the change of conditions. The Henman-Ivanisevic contest, which had fired the attention of the nation, was not due to start until 1pm. Two hours earlier the weather over Wimbledon was, if not cheerful, at least dry.

When asked if the match could not have been started at 11am, Mills said it would have been unfair on the players, who had not got off court until late the previous evening. He agreed, however, that a noon start "would have been feasible". Wimbledon's chief executive, Christopher Gorringe, said the problems were not the worst he had encountered. That had happened the first time the weather had forced play to be held on the middle Sunday in 1991, normally a sacrosanct day of rest.

Tim Phillips, the All England Club chairman, said: "We always try to finish the Championships on time. But equally we are trying to be absolutely fair to the competitors. We have got the logistics sorted out for how possible Monday play would be handled." If Henman should get to the final, logistics would need to be a priority since Wimbledon would be besieged by sports fans attempting to cheer on a Briton to the first Wimbledon men's title since Fred Perry in 1936.

One estimate was that as many as 150,000 people would be heading for Wimbledon if Henman wins today. And last night there was no announcement about what the charge for admission would be or whether there would be a charge at all. Gorringe confirmed there was a blank set of tickets ready for use. There is one consolation. According to Mills, the weather forecast for today and tomorrow is dry. It will be the first men's final to be put off until Monday since 1988.

The Henman semi-final eventually resumed at 5.30 yesterday, 23 hours after it had been stopped by rain on Friday evening. Four and a half hours were lost to more depressing weather yesterday, with spectators patiently sheltering beneath umbrellas as an interview with the former US President Bill Clinton was relayed to them.

Play restarted with Henman 2-1 ahead and Ivanisevic immediately levelled the score by hitting an ace with his first ball. Though the left-handed Ivanisevic looked nervous and shaky, Henman was unable to gain the break which would have given him the fourth set and a place in the men's final, the first Briton to do so for 63 years since Henry "Bunny" Austin in 1938.

Henman had one break point which would have given him a 5-3 lead but the chance got away from him and, as it began to rain again, he needed to save two break points at 5-5 before the set went to a tiebreak in which the British No 1 led 3-1 before losing the next four points. It was two sets all as Henman netted a half-volley to lose the tie-break by seven points to five. Both players slipped on the increasingly wet grass as the fifth and decisive set got under way and eventually referee Mills, watching from courtside, decided it was too risky to continue.