Rain backlog forces rethink on Sunday play

Play on the middle Sunday is possible for only the third time in the history of the Championships as rain delays create a backlog of matches. Yesterday's washout left the organisers 45 matches behind schedule after the first three days. Rain permitting, play will start an hour early today and tomorrow - noon on Centre Court and Court No 1, 11am on the outside courts.

Play on the middle Sunday is possible for only the third time in the history of the Championships as rain delays create a backlog of matches. Yesterday's washout left the organisers 45 matches behind schedule after the first three days. Rain permitting, play will start an hour early today and tomorrow - noon on Centre Court and Court No 1, 11am on the outside courts.

In an attempt to ease congestion, the men's doubles matches have been reduced from five sets to three sets until the quarter-finals at least.

Alan Mills, the referee, will only recommend play next Sunday if he considers there is no option. The All England Club, unlike the three other Grand Slam championships in Melbourne, Paris, and New York, make the middle Sunday a rest day, as much to give the local residents a day's respite from the crowds and traffic as to give their tournament staff a break.

It was Mills who urged the management committee to break with tradition and play on the middle Sunday for the first time in 1991, when only 123 matches were completed by the first Friday. In an uninterrupted week, approximately 365 matches would be completed.

Mills was also instrumental in pressing for Sunday play in 1997, when only 94 matches were completed by the first Friday.

Frustrated spectators wandered round the damp, wind-swept grounds yesterday, hoping that the showers would ease long enough for play to start. At 6.46 pm, Chris Gorringe, the All England Club's chief excective, announced that play was abandoned. Spectators will be able to claim a full refund on their tickets. That is the case if there is less than one hour's play in a day. If there is more than one hour's play but less than two hours, half the cost of the ticket is refunded. Today's forecast is wind and showers.

Yesterday marked the 31st time that a full day's play had been lost since the Championships began in 1877.

It was of no consolation for those who came yesterday, hoping to see some of the world's finest players on Centre Court to know that a retractable roof is planned for the court.

Construction is expected to begin in 2006, and the translucent roof - a "folding fabric concertina", should be ready for the 2009 championships. The roof will at least guarentee play for Centre Court spectators and a world-wide television audience, safeguarding the tournament's commericial viability.

The competitors waiting to play yesterday were as frustrated as the crowd waiting to watch them, none more than Guillermo Coria, of Argentina, the man who defeated Britain's Tim Henman in the French Open semi-finals.

When his match was halted on Tuesday, Coria was serving to Wesley Moodie, of South Africa at 5-3, 30-30, in the fifth set - only two points from his first win in the main drawn Wimbledon.

Henman's second-round match against the unseeded Swiss player Ivo Heuberger, who is ranked at 137, is now scheduled to start tomorrow.

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