Tennis / Sports

Spain's Rafael Nadal during a 6-7 (4), 6-1, 6-1, 6-1 win against Mikhail Kukushkin in the third round at the All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club, Wimbledon, England, on Saturday, June 28, 2014. (Camerasport - Kieran Galvin/Colorsport/Zuma Press)

Roof comes in handy at rainy Wimbledon

WIMBLEDON, England -- When it rains, it pours nervous energy at Wimbledon.

Fingernail chewing becomes an epidemic. Pacing, too. And eating, which with the fare here, is dangerous. Many of the offerings look and taste like roadkill.

Rain in most places comes down hard enough to determine the immediate future. Too wet to play. Let's go do something else.

Rain at Wimbledon doesn't so much fall as tease. Five minutes of dribble and mist here, 10 minutes of sprinkle there. If it stops, it will dry quickly. But will it stop? And if so, for how long?

So, for the bulk of the 40,000 or so on the grounds Saturday, it didn't matter that Rafael Nadal was playing and even struggling for awhile. Or that Maria Sharapova was doing the same. They were on Centre Court, where there is a roof. Centre Court tickets are like gold. The majority come for the side courts and there are no roofs there.

For those without Centre Court seats, it is as much a financial issue as a desire to see tennis. If there is less than an hour of tennis played (on the non-covered courts), they get their money back. If it is more than an hour but less than two, they get half of it back.

Saturday, the program on the non-covered courts started late and was halted after about 10 minutes. Four hours later, around 6 p.m., they were back at it. The sun, which was to set at 9:18, was now doing the teasing, and the likelihood of refunds was minimal.

Except for dire emergencies, they don't play on the middle Sunday of the scheduled competition here, but ever since they put the Centre Court roof into play in 2009, chances of needing a middle Sunday for catch-up play are similar to a soccer score. Nil.

That has happened three times, in 1991, 1997 and 2004. In 1991, it rained so much that writers kept asking Pam Shriver, among the more quotable players, to keep coming back out and answering question on various semi-tennis-related subjects. Even back then, there were media beasts to feed.

Saturday, the media beasts were doing their best to feed. On the roof of the broadcast center, reporters stood under umbrellas and gave updates. All the umbrellas were nondescript except the one with the big ESPN letters on it.

Why are we not surprised.

The trickle of news was predictable.

Second-seeded Nadal lost the first set for the third consecutive match and then stormed back like an angry bull for the third consecutive match. His opponent, Mikhail Kukushkin of Kazakhstan, slugged away on every shot and won a first-set tiebreaker, then succumbed to the usual Nadal baseline barrage, 6-1, 6-1, 6-1.

Alison Riske of Atlanta had U.S. reporters in a twitter for a while with a fast start against Sharapova, a former champion here, the French Open winner a month ago and the fifth-seeded player. But Sharapova quickly righted the ship and won, 6-3, 6-0.

Roger Federer was third out on the roofed Centre Court and he also did the predictable. The seven-time men's champion here, seeking an unprecedented eight at age 32, beat Santiago Giraldo of Colombia, 6-3, 6-1, 6-3.

Like the rain, the day could have ended in this sort of dribble. But then, Alize Cornet of France became a reincarnation of Martina Navratilova, at least for one match, and ousted top-seeded Serena Williams.

For all those who waited for that match on Court 1, the rainy day will be the least of their memories.

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