Oh! What a lovely Wimbledon

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The Independent Online
Beginning today, a brand new Wimbledon saga:


Part one: outlook, more rain.

The players sat in the seeds' lounge and looked miserably out across the rain-swept grass. Day after day it was the same. No advance, no retreat. Just hours and hours spent gazing at the sward, peering through the fronds of drizzle trying to see any signs of activity out there.

"How long has this gone on?" asked Pablo Zarzuela, the Chilean, who had been moved up the rankings when senior seeds had gone sick or been sent home on compassionate leave.

For a moment nobody reacted. They sat watching the rain as it swept from left to right across the sodden turf, and then occasionally, like ballet dancers who have reached the edge of the stage and have nowhere left to go, reversed direction and swept back from right to left.

"Four months," said Arvel Rapak, the talented Croat who had been promoted to be a seed when the gallant Goran Ivanisevic had gone down with double fault fever. "Four months we have been here in this accursed Wimbledon, fighting for a cause we do not believe in and know little about."

It was true. Most of the players fighting to keep Wimbledon '97 alive were not British nationals. They had signed on, as they thought, for two weeks, a brief campaign. They had not read their contracts rigorously. There was a clause which said that, if weather demanded, they were contractually bound to stay there for the duration.

"God! I'm sick of this place!" suddenly burst out little Raymond Cap- Ferrat, the French No 2. "I'm sick of the mud and the rain, and the stench of lawnmower fuel, and the cries of the waiting, and the lies and hypocrisy of those in charge ..."

"That's quite enough of that sort of talk!" came a firm voice. They all turned, to see the imposing figure of Captain Tony Tucker, the Wimbledon liaison officer. "Cut it out, Cap-Ferrat."

There was a sullen silence from the seeds.

"You're a seed now, Cap-Ferrat," said Tucker, directing his manly gaze at the recalcitrant Frenchman. "That demands certain responsibilities. It means you must inspire confidence in the qualifiers and also-rans. And if you have any private fear, you must not show it."

"I have no private fear!" flashed back the Frenchman. "My fear is all public! Everyone knows my fear. I fear we are wasting our lives in this hell-hole, this forgotten suburb, fighting for a cause that means nothing."

"NOTHING?" thundered Tucker. "Don't you understand, man? If you give up Wimbledon, you give up tennis. And that means giving up civilisation!"

"You mean, you lose face and you give up a lot of money," said the Frenchman.

"He's right!" said Zarzuela.

Tucker looked round at the mutinous faces and felt a surge of fear. But help came from an unexpected quarter. The American doubles specialist Bill Hugel put his arm round Tucker's shoulders.

"Easy, fellers, take it easy," he said. "Lay off Tucker, you guys. He may be an asshole and a limey liar, and he may smell worse of after-shave than an Arab sheikh, but we've all got to stick together and see this thing through."

"Thanks, Hugel," said Tucker. "So what I propose now, gents, is ..."

What he was going to say they never learnt, because at that moment Rafael Portillo, the Spaniard with the deadly second serve, leapt up and grabbed his racket.

"Come on, let's go out and play!" he yelled.

Seconds later, they saw him vanish into the rain, his racket waving hysterically.

"Oh well, another one gone," said Tucker stoically. "Another frustration fever victim. I'll send you another qualifier before lunch, gents."

As he left, they saw a man with a wheelbarrow walking stolidly out into the rain. Gone to get Portillo, no doubt. They sighed, and Gunter, the young German, got out his harmonica and started playing. It was another day at Wimbledon.

More drama in this all-inaction story tomorrow!