Federer stays on course despite breaks for rain

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The Independent Online

The race against the rain is on as the organisers strive to end the championships tomorrow and not on Monday. That last happened in 2001, when Goran Ivanisevic defeated Pat Rafter.

The race against the rain is on as the organisers strive to end the championships tomorrow and not on Monday. That last happened in 2001, when Goran Ivanisevic defeated Pat Rafter.

Play was abandoned at 7.57pm yesterday, with Roger Federer and Andy Roddick, the top two seeds in the men's singles, edging towards their projected meeting in the final. Federer, the defending champion, led Sébastien Grosjean, of France, 6-2, 6-3, 4-3, and Roddick led Mario Ancic, Tim Henman's Croatian conqueror, 6-4, 4-3.

If Federer and Roddick prevail, it will be the first time that the top two seeds have met in the final since 1982, when the second-seeded Jimmy Connors defeated his American compatriot John McEnroe.

Yesterday, after another afternoon of delays, it was decided to move the second men's semi-final, between Roddick and Ancic, from Centre Court to Court No 1. They are due back there at noon today, the same time as Federer and Grosjean return to Centre Court. The women's final is due to follow, not before 2pm.

The Federer-Grosjean match opened on Centre Court shortly after 1pm, as scheduled, but rain stopped play after 23 minutes, with Federer leading, 3-2, with a break of serve.

The Swiss world No 1 had a dream start, breaking Grosjean to 15 in the opening game, which ended with the Frenchman netting a forehand, Federer then held to15 before taking Grosjean to deuce in the third game.

After holding to love for 3-1, Federer created three break points, but Grosjean was able to serve his way out of trouble.Before the next game could be settled, the rain arrived.

There followed two rain-making rituals. At 2pm, after spending 34 minutes in the locker room, Federer and Grosjean arrived back on court and began to warm up. The exercise went on for three minutes before the rain returned and the groundstaff ran the tarpaulin. At 3.43pm, after spending an hour and 40 minutes in the locker room, the players had time only to take their rackets out of their bags.

By now, the frustrated spectators - including Sir Clive Woodward, England's World Cup-winning rugby union coach - may have regarded the games played earlier as nostalgia. We all began to wonder if a whole day's play would be lost for a third time. Two days were rained off in the first week, leading to a hastily arranged "People's Sunday". Alan Mills, the long-serving referee, was already working on contingency plans with the All England Club's committee.

The crowd, already casting their eyes skyward, began to murmur the word "roof". Most were aware that it is planned to put a retractable roof on Centre Court in 2009, and that planning permission for the project has been given. At that moment, however, they probably would not have been too inspired by the news that the All England Club had already been able to earmark funds for the job.

Building work at Wimbledon is funded by revenue from debentures for Centre Court seats. Yesterday it was confirmed that an issue of 2,300 debentures for the 2006-2010 Championships is set to raise £46m. The debentures were first introduced in 1920 to finance the move from the club's original home at Worpole Road to Church Road and have since been used to enlarge and improve the amenities.

By using money from debentures to maintain the club's status as the original and most prestigious of the world's four Grand Slam championships, Wimbledon have been able to hand over the annual surplus from the championships to the Lawn Tennis Association for the development of the sport. This annual donation has often amounted to more than £30m.

At 6.09 pm Federer and Grosjean had not only completed another warm up, but were back in serious action. And Roddick and Ancic were also duelling on Court No 1.

Federer was taken to deuce before completing the sixth game with a service winner. He went on to secure the opening set, 6-2. Federer began the second set with the confidence that had enabled him to progress elegantly through the draw with barely a serious challenge to his title. He broke Grosjean in the seventh game and again in the eighth for 6-3, to stamp his authority on the match.

Grosjean steadied himself for the third set and Federer had to save a break point at 2-2. The two games played before rain called time went with serve.

* Tim Henman will have the chance to make up for his Wimbledon disappointment after being selected for the British team for the Athens Olympics. Henman, beaten in the quarter-finals this week, will be hoping to go one better than the silver he won in the doubles at the Atlanta Games in 1996.

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