Wimbledon nears its conclusion
Wimbledon and its champions now fight their way once more toward the finals against England's various adversities.
For two days we had a reprieve from the frequent downpours that marred the early part of the tournament. The fine weather was accompanied by glorious tennis - and many were the seeds that got scattered.
Billowing summer clouds in convoy sailed free before the breeze across a summer sky. The stands filled with fans in multi-colored shirtsleeves. Jimmy Connors had them singing and laughing between points as he won a splendid, graceful, and good-tempered match with Australia's Paul McNamee. Billie Jean King outwitted young Tracy Austin 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, raising before us another castle in the clouds, a possible seventh singles title.
Then the rains came again - ''drizzle, showers, followed by continuous rain, '' the weathermen said. And with the national union of railwaymen back at work, the locomotive-men set their own strike for Saturday. A Sunday finish now becomes uncertain once again.
By Thursday it didn't seem at all certain that John McEnroe, the defending champion in both the singles and the men's doubles (with Peter Fleming), would reach either final this time.
When he beat Hank Pfister 6-4, 6-4, 6-4, he several times ''went off into space,'' to use his own expression, suddenly losing all concentration. He also went off into tantrums, both he and Hank receiving official warnings for ''ball abuse.'' Then he and Fleming very, very nearly lost in the doubles to unseeded Rod Frawley of Australia and Christopher Lewis of New Zealand. The Americans survived three match points against them before running out winners 7-6, 3-6, 8- 6 in a match reduced from five to three sets owing to the crowded schedules.
McEnroe in the singles then had to meet South African Johan Kriek, who had beaten him in Memphis earlier in the year.
Besides Connors, Vitas Gerulaitis has seemed nearest to peak form among the men. He defeated Roscoe Tanner 6-3, 6-4, 6-3, playing fast, shimmering tennis that really didn't need the extra gamesmanship Vitas employed. Tanner had earlier beaten India's Vijay Amritraj 6-4, 6-4, 4-6, 4-6, 6-3 in a really superb match played in the very best spirit.
Gerulaitis then had to meet the Australian Mark Edmondson, another player with a big serve. Connors was facing Gene Mayer. Fighting to join them, Tim Mayotte faced a much-improved Buster Mottram, Great Britain's final hope among the singles players.
Meanwhile the women seeds were scattering.No. 5 Hana Mandlikova, who reached last year's finals, and had already gone. Fourth-seeded Andrea Jaeger was put out by Anne Smith from Texas. Seventh-ranked Pam Shriver was routed by Barbara Potter, 6-2, 6-4. And both No. 3 Austin and No. 6 Wendy Turnbull were ousted by Billie Jean.
The elegant but commanding defending champion Chris Evert Lloyd restored some order to the draw by sweeping Potter aside 6-2, 6-1. Meanwhile top-seeded Martina Navratilova had a somewhat sterner tussle against Joanne Russell. The latter had two break points for a 4-2 lead in the second set, and only some relentless serving and volleying by Navratilova finally broke her down.
Besides the tennis, as players dodged the showers and the few spectators sat hunched within their jackets or upright under their umbrellas, the main talking point was the state of the game in general here in Britain.
A printed message from Jim Cochrane, president of the Lawn Tennis Association , told them that the LTA is reorganizing and streamlining its administration.
The new national tennis training center at Bisham Abbey, run in partnership with the Sports Council, now offers the best indoor training facilities in Europe, he claims.
The LTA is also collaborating with local town and country councils and private entrepreneurs to develop regional centers. There's now a junior program with weekend training and winter tournaments. And more than a million dollars (actually 650,000 pounds sterling) has been committed to a loans scheme for local tennis clubs to improve facilities.
As to whether Wimbledon can continue to keep its place in the forefront of tournaments in climatic conditions such as this, let me offer some consoling facts:
Sixty years have passed since there was rain on all days of the tournament. In the past 30 years one day has been completely rained out in only seven years, which means that in 23 years there's never been one whole day's washout, and play has been possible on all 12 playing days.
If Britain wasn't continuously victorious over its weather, everybody would have left the islands long ago. And this Wimbledon will end in triumph too, that's for sure.