- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 7, 2001

WIMBLEDON, England For just the second time since 1922, the Wimbledon men's singles final has been postponed until Monday.

A steady drizzle allowed just 51 minutes of play at the All England Club yesterday, leaving the semifinal between Tim Henman and Goran Ivanisevic hanging in the balance of a halted fifth set and pushing back the scheduled women's final between Venus Williams and Justine Henin until approximately 9 a.m. today.

Henman and Ivanisevic, on serve at 3-2 in the fifth, will resume play at 8 a.m. this morning, with Henman serving at 30-15. Williams and Henin will take Centre Court directly after the conclusion of the men's match, commencing no earlier than 9 a.m.

Wimbledon referee Alan Mills gave Henman, Ivanisevic and Aussie Pat Rafter, who's already through to the final, the option of beginning the men's final immediately after the women's match this afternoon. Mills called all three players shortly after play was called for the day at 8 p.m. London time, and apparently at least one of the trio rejected the plan.

Mills himself was in favor of a Monday finish, though he claimed the decision would be left "to the discretion of the players." Interestingly, an NBC source who preferred to remain anonymous said the network was in favor of finishing today. But that would have resulted in a substantial financial loss for the All England Club, which by its own by-laws was forced to grant yesterday's patrons a full refund because less than an hour of tennis was played.

"In previous years, the tickets on the final Sunday were valid on the Monday," club chairman Tim Phillips said. "[But this year] we have a clean sheet of paper for Monday."

Therefore, the club can recoup yesterday's losses with a new round of ticket sales tomorrow. And those sales could bring a massive windfall if Henman, attempting to become the first British man to win the singles since Fred Perry in 1936, holds off Ivanisevic to advance to the finals.

Yesterday, the two played one ragged, late-afternoon set between rain showers. Despite some absolutely extremely spotty play, the 29-year-old Ivanisevic took the fourth set in a tiebreaker (7-5) with a forehand return to Henman's feet that the Brit netted in a futile half-volley attempt.

"The pressure on Henman has to be murderous," London resident and longtime Centre Court patron Lucy Williams said yesterday. "I think moving the final back to Monday has to hurt him even if he does slip by Ivanisevic. You've seen how bonkers the media and the people are about Tim. He's got the weight of a nation on his shoulders. Just think how difficult it's going to be to sleep with all the fuss hanging over him for two more nights."

Virginia Wade, the last Brit to win a singles title at Wimbledon (1977), was in the press center yesterday putting Henman's situation in perspective by recounting her own experiences as the nation's darling.

"The thing about the British crowd is they're slightly hysterical," said Wade, who defeated Betty Stove 4-6, 6-3, 6-1 to win the title. "I always remember and laugh that in my final, on the very first point I won, everybody started clapping like I won the match.

"The crowd is so nervous that you really have to be confident and go with the wave… . If you're feeling the pressure, that wave could really get to you."

That wave is unlikely to affect either Williams or Henin. The 21-year-old Williams has the experience of last year's Wimbledon victory behind her. And the 19-year-old Henin, who dealt with her mother's death from cancer six years ago, isn't likely to get rattled by a little exercise on Centre Court.

In fact, Henin, who was still limping yesterday morning from a severe blister on her right ankle, could profit physically from the extra day of rest. She was able to hit some yesterday with fellow Belgian Kim Clijsters on the indoor courts adjacent to the property.

The player hurt the most by the rain delay could be Rafter, who will have to shake off two days of rust when he takes Centre Court tomorrow. But the 28-year-old Aussie, who is toying with retiring at the end of the season, seems confident and casual a stark departure from the tight player who dissolved against Pete Sampras in last year's final.

"I hope I get in that situation again," said Rafter, who was up a set on Sampras and 4-1 in a second-set tiebreaker before folding in a four-set defeat. "It would be a nice position to get into. [Last year], I was saying, 'Relax, relax.' It didn't work. Maybe this time I might say, 'Choke, choke,' and see what happens."

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