It’s another damp, soggy day at Wimbledon

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FIGHTING IT OUT: Venus Williams kept her hopes of a fourth Wimbledon title alive as she came through a tough third-round encounter against Akiko Morigami.
FIGHTING IT OUT: Venus Williams kept her hopes of a fourth Wimbledon title alive as she came through a tough third-round encounter against Akiko Morigami.

Nirmal Shekar

TENNIS / Justine Henin eases into the quarterfinals beating Patty Schnyder

London: What do they do at Wimbledon when it is not raining? Well, they try and play a set or a set and a half of tennis on soggy lawns in front of stoic spectators huddled in the dripping stands like flood-ravaged families waiting for food packets and rescue helicopters.

While it doesn’t hurt to lighten the mood on yet another dismal, leaky day in the 121st championships — especially at a difficult time when Britain’s security alert status has been raised to ‘critical’ — this summer’s experience at the hallowed home of tennis may not be unique.

You need not be a climate change alarmist to begin to wonder if, in the long term, global warming and the unpredictable, chaotic weather systems it might trigger could threaten the viability of the only grass court Grand Slam.

Scientists have pointed fingers at La Nina, El Nino’s sister, for all the rain havoc in Britain the past two weeks. But you might suspect that a gaggle of malevolent younger siblings may be lying in wait somewhere in the future.

On Monday, amidst successive spells of light-to-heavy rains, the tournament referee, Andrew Jarrett, still sounded optimistic about completing the event on schedule on July 8.

“We cannot control the weather. But, you know, you can half twelve and a half days of brilliant sunshine and then if it rains, it would still go into a third week,” Jarrett said on BBC TV.

Poor forecast

With unsettled weather forecast for the next few days, and a backlog of matches that has raced past the 100-mark, play on the third Monday seems a distinct possibility, although two good days in a row will bring the tournament back on course to a scheduled finish.

In early action on Monday, between showers, a few marquee names in the women’s championship — including the No.1 seed Justine Henin and Venus Williams, a three-time champion — managed to complete their matches. While Henin raced to the quarterfinals with a 6-2, 6-2 defeat of Patty Schnyder, Venus Williams huffed and puffed her way to a 6-2, 3-6, 7-5 victory over a fighting Akiko Morigami to make the fourth round. Venus, champion here in 2000, 2001 and 2005, could not complete the match in time on Saturday to beat the rain. She was leading by a set but was down a break in the second.

On resumption, Venus, who missed the early part of the season, including the Australian Open, because of a wrist injury, struggled for consistency, especially on her serves.

For her part, Morigami, hitting the ball flat and hard and rocking the former champion on her heels on the baseline, was in no mood to surrender. Morigami took the second set and, after trading an early break, broke Venus in the eighth game to give herself the opportunity to serve out the match only to lose that game without taking a single point.

Venus, inspired by that turnaround, broke to 6-5 and then, as another spell of showers arrived, managed to fight off two breakpoints to close out the match.

“One of my strong points is I am a tough competitor and a huge fighter,” said a relieved Venus. She’d need all the toughness she can muster in the next round when she plays the 2004 champion and second seed, Maria Sharapova.

“I feel good about whoever I have to play, especially after this match,” said Venus who has not won a major title since beating Lindsay Davenport in an epic final here two years ago.

Tamira Paszek, a 16-year old from Austria, outlasted the 12th seeded Russian Elena Dementieva 3-6, 6-2, 6-3 to make the fourth round.

Serena battles

Serena Williams, seeded seven, battled cramps and a resolute opponent in Daniela Hantuchova, the 10th seed, to keep her quarterfinal hopes alive.

At the time of writing, with rain having stopped play for the third time, Serena was leading 6-2, 6-6 (2-4) in the fourth round contest.

Serena’s troubles began in the 11th game of the second set after she had fought back from a break down to level things.

At the end of the third point in that game, on Hantuchova’s serve, the former champion collapsed to the turf in pain because of a severe bout of cramps in the calf muscles of her left leg.

She took medical time out, was attended to by a trainer, and proceeded to hold serve to take the set into a tiebreak. Within minutes, the skies opened up again with Hantuchova leading 4-2.

Nadal in command

French Open champion and second seed, Rafael Nadal, endured two rain delays and a stubborn opponent in Sweden’s Robin Soderling as eased himself close to the finish line, leading 6-4, 6-4, 7-6(7-7).

It was not the sort of day when the three-time Roland Garros champion could find the sort of rhythm that sees him dominate opponents on clay.

The stop-start, stop-start routine on a slightly damp court must have proved rather frustrating as Nadal fought his way to get within two points of victory.

Marcos Baghdatis, seeded 10, raced to a 6-3, 7-5, 6-0 victory over the 2002 finalist David Nalbandian of Argentina to book his place in the round of 16.

Prefix denotes seeding

Men’s singles: Third round: 7-Tomas Berdych (Cze) bt Lee Hyung-Taik (Kor) 6-4, 7-6(2), 7-6(3); 10-Marcos Baghdatis bt David Nalbandian 6-3, 7-5, 6-0.

Women’s singles: Fourth round: 1-Justine Henin (Bel) bt 15-Patty Schnyder (Sui) 6-2, 6-2. Third round: 11-Nadia Petrova (Rus) bt Virginia Ruano Pascual (Esp) 6-3, 7-6(3); 6-Ana Ivanovic (Srb) bt Aravane Rezai (Fra) 6-3, 6-2; 5-Svetlana Kuznetsova (Rus) bt Agnieszka Radwanska (Pol) 6-2, 6-3.

14-Nicole Vaidisova (Cze) bt Victoria Azarenka (Blr) 6-4, 6-2.; 23-Venus Williams (U.S.) bt Akiko Morigami (Jpn) 6-2, 3-6, 7-5; Tamira Paszek (Aut) bt 12-Elena Dementieva (Rus) 3-6, 6-2, 6-3.

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