Wimbledon 97: Strawberry relief for Pierce

Guy Hodgson on the hard time the players have when the rain falls
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The Independent Online
Great life a tennis player: sun, seeds and as much sponsored gear as you can wear. Then again you spend a lot of days watching the rain fall. What do you do at Wimbledon if you reach the point of no return? In Mary Pierce's case you hand out strawberries.

The Women's Tennis Association tried hard yesterday, sending Pierce and Mary Joe Fernandez into the press canteen to provide a photo-opportunity. On a wet day at the All England Club it was a trifle the media consumed with relish. It cut the tedium for the players as well.

Stan Smith, when he talks about a career that included becoming men's champion in 1972, said the worst things about being a tennis pro is the waiting. "You have to eat to keep up the energy levels but you can't afford to have a meal just before you go on court. It can drive you crazy finding something to do." Some players like Martina Navratilova built their lives round their diet, some days that life goes haywire.

Stefan Edberg thought he had finished with the waiting game. In 1991 he played the longest match of his career at Wimbledon when he started against Marc Rosset on Monday and finished it on Thursday. Yesterday the champion of 1988 and 1990 was due to receive a momento from the Duke of Kent to mark "his immense contribution to the game". Instead he took a rain check.

Rachel McQuillan's day in the limelight was typical of a day amid the storms. In theory Wednesday should have been among the greatest in her career. In theory. She was due to make her debut on Centre Court to play Monica Seles at 2pm but did not get there until four hours later.

"I just tried to keep busy," the Australian said of her wait problem, "because I didn't want to get tired. The players' lounge gets pretty congested and hot and the talk in the locker-room is `we're not going to play today'. You start thinking about tomorrow when, all of a sudden, you're on court.''

You spend hours waiting and suddenly you are not prepared. McQuillan thought she had run everything through her mind but had forgotten where she was and had to ask her opponent for the etiquette. "Where do we curtsy," she asked as the Royal Box came into view. "Service line," Seles hissed. "I'm going, `service line?' I'll just wait for you.''

McQuillan dipped in time and bowed pretty quickly too, losing the first set in 19 minutes and the match 6-0, 6-2. Even that had its interruption and time for a trip to the locker-room."The girls were saying `Rach, you're playing a good match there' which made me more nervous. They said `I like what you did when you won that game'.''

Sarcasm, gossip and a whole lot of time-wasting. Tennis players do what any of us would do if they have hours to spare. Tim Henman is partial to a game of backgammon while Goran Ivanisevic plays cards with his coach and friend from his schooldays, Vedran Martic.

If possible the Croat will team up with Martic against his parents. "We play an Italian game, briscola," he said last year, "and my father is pretty experienced. It's a big battle of pride and we are losing all the time. There are all sorts of signs which you are not allowed to do in this game; a little cheating you know. My father doesn't know we are cheating but it doesn't help. I don't like to lose at cards. The other night they beat us pretty badly and I couldn't sleep.''

Ah, sleep. That's another option and one that Pierce and Fernandez probably wished they had taken when they were chased around the canteen by a horde of hungry hacks. How had they spent their day? "Listening to music and playing cards." It could have been any two of a thousand people at Wimbledon talking.