Wimbledon 1997: In desperate need of a super mac

Wimbledon Diary

The rain is sheeting down, the seeds are all keeping dry in the Players' Lounge for fear of germinating too soon, and the only dangerous floater in sight is the hot dog in the fountain adjacent to Court No 18. Regular updates over the PA system begin "I'm afraid the news from the London Weather Centre remains discouraging..." and it is clear that the only racket activity in SW19 for yet another afternoon will be that conducted by the opportunist umbrella salesmen on Wimbledon Park Road.

What is required is a guide to the hottest spots at the All England Lawn Tennis Club. You will have heard of the cult movie Things To Do In Denver When You're Dead. Here, then, are some Things to Do In Wimbledon When You're Wet...

1. Accost one of the youths who parade around the grounds carrying "Information" signs and ask them for a definitive spelling of the surname of the Belarussian star Olga Barabanschikova. While they think it over, nick their transparent mac.

2. Stock up on dry clothing at the Wimbledon Shop underneath No 1 Court. Marvel at the audacity of selling a commemorative crystal vase for pounds 3,500. Marvel further at the fact that, on Thursday, someone bought one.

3. Ask a soldier to dance. There are hundreds of them of both sexes, on duty as stewards in the show courts, and although in uniform they are technically on leave and thus more amenable than usual to such requests.

4. Appear on television. The BBC's swanky new studios abut the concourse between No 1 Court and No 18 Court: this is therefore the ideal spot from which to distract Desmond Lynam and Sue Barker. T-Shirts emblazoned "Des For Pres" and "John Barrett Kicks Butt" should ensure exposure.

5. Get a virtual soaking. Visit the IBM Information Tent and hit the button marked "Rain at Wimbledon" on one of the PCs. The screen will fill with images of dripping statues and gently billowing covers. For more of the real thing, simply step back outside again.

DESPITE such myriad entertainment opportunities, one or two members of the public insisted on making their own fun last week. On Wednesday a happy little group were spotted in the hinterlands around Court 16 sharing a large cigarette. So what if the players couldn't enjoy themselves on grass - at least the fans could.

NO such wickedness in the Press Room, of course, where hacks instead derived a natural high from an appearance by the French star Mary Pierce. The Lissom One caused a stampede of photographers in the Media Restaurant on Wednesday lunchtime when she distributed strawberries from a large china bowl to astonished scribblers. Overwhelmed by her generosity, L'Equipe reported the next day that the fruitfest had been "une idee de Mary Pierce". Cynical non-Frenchpersons noted that Pierce was accompanied by Mary Jo Fernandez and a couple of tour officials, and concluded that the stunt was in fact "une idee de" the WTA public relations office. But hey - who's complaining? At Wimbledon prices (pounds 1.85 for a small punnet) the journos must have wolfed several hundred francs' worth of fraises.

BACK outdoors, it was disclosed to the Independent On Sunday that evidence had come to light of undercover activity. The evidence consisted of an empty champagne bottle, a pair of tights and a condom (considerable mileage, one careful owner), discovered at first light beneath the billowing green sheets on an outside court. Well, it beats community singing...

WIMBLEDON fans could have made a mint backing racehorses on Wednesday if only they had read the portents right. Rainbow Rain (6-1) and Black Ice Boy (33-1) romped home at Carlisle, while Rainwatch (2-1) obliged at Salisbury to complete a 396-1 treble. Noting the coincidence, a number of people tried to back similar runners the next day, only to find that there is no bookies' shop at the Championships. "It's not something we want here at the moment," an official sniffily explained. It was just as well: Thursday's Salisbury runners, Silver Lining and Cloudy Hill, were both soundly beaten.

INFORMATION about the weather was the most precious commodity at the Championships last week. Fans pestered every kind of official for forecasts, scoured newspapers and clutched radios, avid for the latest bulletins. But one supposedly omniscient data-source was unavailable. On Friday morning a scrawled note hung from the closed canvas flap of the Online/Internet marquee. "Due to unforeseen weather conditions," it read, "Online is temporarily closed."

THE rain achieved what the police could not. On Monday, a group of sharp-suited gents greeted tennis-goers at Southfields station, muttering the traditional Wimbledon greeting: "Buy and sell tickets..." On Tuesday, they reported business was "crummy". On Wednesday, "horrendous". On Thursday, "diabolical". And on Friday, they were gone. But like the tennis, the touts will be back once the sun shines.

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