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Ivanisevic closes in, then so does rain

Men's semifinal is suspended with Ivanisevic leading in fifth set. Women's final also is moved to today.

Compiled from Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times,
published July 8, 2001

WIMBLEDON, England -- Even for a nation legendary for suffering patiently, this was asking a lot.

The English fans had waited through two days of rain and endless delays and then, when a brief window of tennis finally opened on the soggy grounds of Wimbledon on Saturday afternoon, British favorite Tim Henman could not even finish off the semifinal match that already had been postponed once.

Instead, in the 51 minutes he was on Centre Court, Henman watched Goran Ivanisevic shake off the two-sets-to-one lead Henman carried over from the match's start Friday by winning a tense fourth-set tiebreaker 7-5.

While the players started the fifth set, the rain punished them for their dalliance, sweeping through the grounds with such force that the match was postponed until today with Ivanisevic leading 3-2 but Henman ahead 30-15 as he served in the sixth game.

The British public, which has spent the past 63 years pining for an Englishman to reach the final here, will have to wait another day to find out whether Henman can follow in the groundstrokes of Bunny Austin's 1938 run (he lost to American Don Budge).

Venus Williams and Justine Henin, who were to play the women's final, also are scheduled to play today, having never gotten onto the court Saturday.

The men's final, which has been played on the tournament's third Monday once since 1919, was postponed as well, moved to Monday after a consultation with Henman, Ivanisevic and Patrick Rafter, who advanced to the final by beating Andre Agassi before the rain first started on Friday.

"Obviously this is very bad for the tournament, but I actually think it's good for Justine," said Henin's coach, Carlos Rodriguez, who spent the day trying to keep his 19-year-old charge mentally focused on playing her first Grand Slam final. "Justine has had very bad blisters on her foot. One more day of rest and I think she will feel okay, so we're trying to see it as a good thing.

"The waiting, though, the waiting is hard."

Players lounged in the locker rooms and restaurants for hours Saturday after rain first started about 12:30 p.m., delaying the scheduled 1 p.m. start time.

Rafter spent the day watching on television as Australia's rugby team, the Wallabies, beat the British Lions and Australia's cricket team extended its lead over England in the third day of a five-day test match. Those would be good omens for Australia's Rafter if he were to play England's Henman in the final.

Williams' father and coach, Richard, said his daughter didn't seem fazed by the delay in her bid for a second successive Wimbledon title.

"Venus is the type of person, it seems nothing bothers her," he said. "And if it did, you would never know it."

The sun briefly peaked through low, slow-moving clouds shortly before Henman and Ivanisevic took the court after a 4 1/2-hour wait.

Otherwise the sky was so drab even their white outfits appeared dingy.

Aside from the brief interlude of tennis, Centre Court fans settled for entertainment by the band of the Welsh Guards, which played Copacabana, march music and other rousing tunes.

Some 27,000 fans patiently waited out the rain.

Many spent the afternoon on the large picnic terrace now nicknamed "Henman Hill," where those without Centre Court tickets gathered before a large-screen TV to cheer on Britain's national hero.

With a mist falling, few fans had umbrellas. They relaxed on blankets or the wet grass, the atmosphere resembling a park on a soggy holiday.

While many of the fans were resolute, they finally started to trickle off the grounds after Henman and Ivanisevic's brief, late-afternoon foray onto Centre Court.

* * *

WIMBLEDON TODAY: 9 a.m, Ch. 8. Venus Williams-Justine Henin women's final. That match will be followed by the taped completion of Goran Ivanisevic-Tim Henman men's semifinal (Ivanisevic led 3-2 in the fifth set).

WEATHER FORECAST: 50 percent chance of morning showers.

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