- The Washington Times - Monday, June 28, 2004

WIMBLEDON, England — It was a day for the commoners, the riffraff, the great unwashed. For just the third time in more than a century, the stately, stuffy All England Club unlocked its gates to the masses, anyone willing to line up for tickets.

For the tennis-playing proletariat, however, the “People’s Sunday” was anything but.

After a waterlogged week of match-snuffing rain delays, Wimbledon reopened for business yesterday, and the tournament’s top seeds wasted no time in restoring the draw’s natural order. Title contenders Serena Williams, Andy Roddick and Jennifer Capriati cruised into the fourth round; Williams brushed aside Spain’s Magui Serna 6-4, 6-0, Roddick outslugged countryman Taylor Dent 6-3, 7-6 (6), 7-6 (1) and Capriati stopped France’s Natalie Dechy 7-5, 6-1.

Also advancing were top-seeded Roger Federer of Switzerland, France’s Amelie Mauresmo and perennial English hope Tim Henman, all topping lower-ranked opponents. In the day’s only upset of note, Vince Spadea defeated No.8 seed Rainer Schuettler of Germany in straight sets.

Backlogged matches from a pair of first-week washouts forced organizers to hold play on Wimbledon’s middle Sunday for the third time in the tournament’s 127-year history. The traditional rest day last saw action in 1997.

“With the rain and everything, you sit around,” Capriati said. “It’s hard to not just get sluggish and just kind of lose that quickness. That’s one of the toughest things.”

With tickets usually reserved for the English upper crust instead sold to the public on a first-come, first-serve basis, previous so-called “People’s Sundays” have been rowdy, flag-waving affairs. While Capriati might have expected a raucous reception, her late-morning Court1 match was less street fair than practice session. Long lines and undermanned security checkpoints made for slow going outside Wimbledon’s grounds, and only a handful of fans managed to squeeze inside for an atypical 11 o’clock start.

No matter. Seeded No.7, Capriati opened her match against No.25 seed Dechy by winning three games in 15 minutes, then swept through the second set behind 12 winners and aggressive net play. Afterward, she scanned the empty seats around her, then gave a brief thumbs up to her guest box.

Stefano and Denise Capriati, who usually accompany their daughter, were notably absent.

“I’m 28 years old,” Capriati said. “It’s not that unusual to kind of be on my own, and I think I can handle it. I just want to try every possible option and give myself every chance to win another Grand Slam, to win Wimbledon.”

Sporting a scruffy beard seemingly inspired by the recent Stanley Cup playoffs, Roddick followed Capriati onto Court1, using his percussive serve and some surprisingly deft passing shots to blunt Dent’s quaint serve-and-volley rushes.

Down 5-3 in the second set tiebreak, Roddick smacked a forehand return wide, then slammed his racket into the turf. Steadying himself, he saved three consecutive set points — one with a 137 mph service winner — and ultimately took the set with a sideline-skimming backhand pass.

Running to his chair, Roddick screamed “Yes!” while repeatedly pumping his fist.

“I was lucky enough to get a little slimy return down,” Roddick said. “[Dent] didn’t really commit to his volley. He just missed it. I was pretty fortunate.”

Federer needed scant luck against Thomas Johansson, swamping the former Australian Open winner despite a haywire opening game that saw him hit a line judge with a serve. The defending Wimbledon champion has yet to drop a set in the tournament and appears to be on a collision course with Roddick, whom he vivisected in last year’s semifinals.

“I have to also look at [Roddick’s] game, how he’s playing, because we haven’t seen each other very much in the clay court season,” Federer admitted. “Here, I’m checking him out more than maybe other tournaments.”

Like Federer, Williams is favored to defend her title; unlike the reserved Swiss, she spent a portion of last week discussing her half-joking ambition to act in a horror movie. Though the top seed wasn’t scary in the first set — she needed a sloppy, looping forehand by Serna to gain her initial break — Williams found her form in the second, blanking her squat Spanish challenger shortly before late-day showers halted play.

“I saw the attendants coming, looking like they were going to cover the court at 4-love,” Williams said. “I was like, ‘Oh boy, I don’t want to be up 5-love, 40-15 and have to come off the court.’ That would have been really unfortunate.”

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