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Wimbledon : The Rains Came, but Only Purcell Exited

Times Staff Writer

First came the storm. Then the thunder. There was even lightning jarring hallowed Centre Court.

All of that, just to eliminate Mel Purcell and to learn that Ivan Lendl doesn’t know enough to come in from out of the rain.

Wimbledon opened Monday with a virtual washout. The outer courts were inundated by the traditional rain. Lightning struck the administration building adjacent to Centre Court, where John McEnroe began his title defense.

Six games into his match, McErnoe, with the referee’s permission, begged off.

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Everyone went home, poorer by the price of a day’s ticket. Well, almost everyone went home.

On Court No. 1, Ivan Lendl, oblivious to the outside world, was playing Mel Purcell. Lendl slipped, he slid, he splashed, he survived. He beat Purcell, 6-4, 7-6, 7-6.

Lendl was happy enough, as it turned out, until he went back to the players’ dressing room in search of tea and sympathy and instead found an empty room.

“I came to the dressing room and nobody is there,” Lendl said.

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That was the first clue he had that his match was the only match of the day. He’s heard better news. Unlike Garbo, Lendl hates to be alone.

“I’m very upset,” he said. “I don’t think it was a fair decision. Since they stopped every other match, they should have stopped our match, too.

“It was not fair to us, the players, or to the match.”

Ivan the Terrified said it was scary out there on the court. The fans were laughing as he knocked the grass off the bottom of his shoes, as a baseball player would. That didn’t make him too happy. “They should have been happy they had a match to see,” he said.

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But it made Lendl a lot unhappier when he learned that McEnroe’s match was called off.

McEnroe asked. Lendl didn’t.

“I don’t think the players should be able to stop the game,” Lendl said. “The umpire saw we were slipping and sliding.”

Arthur Ashe, who is doing television commentary here, said a player should ask. McEnroe apparently agreed.

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Nineteen minutes into his match with Peter McNamara, McEnroe went to the umpire, apparently asked him to get the referee, and then put on his jacket and sat down.

His match was tied at 3-3 and that’s the way it stayed, referee Alan Mills ruling two minutes later that the court was too slippery. So much for the partial scores.

Lendl was not the only one unhappy with that decision. The players walked onto the court at 6:24 p.m. for a match that was scheduled to have begun at 2 p.m.

McEnroe, the top seed and two-time defending champion, received a warm ovation. But so did the ballboys. The crowd just wanted to see somebody play. Those in standing room had been standing for hours. The others had paid their seven pounds ($9), and there are no rainchecks here.

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McNamara, playing on a much-wrapped left knee, first mentioned to the umpire that the conditions were not safe after a day-long rain. Then McEnroe joined the cause.

When the decision was announced, the fans booed, if not vociferously. They don’t riot at Wimbledon--stiff upper lip and all that.

But as has often been the case, the sun began to shine as soon as McEnroe left the court. The sun shines late here, when it shines at all. Even when it rains a lot, they usually play, the last complete washout coming on opening day of the 1969 tournament.

No wonder Lendl figured he should be playing. Mills said he never heard from Court No. 1, which is the other large court at Wimbledon. And so the two played on.

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“I’m going to talk to someone about it,” Lendl said.

It’s a little late for talk at this point, and it’s a little late for the tournament as well. If they play one match a day, the two-week tournament will end in late 1986. There are 442 matches remaining.

There were 67 matches scheduled for Monday, but only the one came off. Mel Purcell was your only loser.

Today, they’ll try it all over again, minus Lendl and Purcell and partway through the McEnroe-McNamara match. Two women’s matches will be played, including Martina Navratilova’s opener against Lisa Bonder.

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Chris Evert Lloyd, who was supposed to open today, has a stiff neck and was granted a day’s delay.

She may get more than that.

Today’s forecast: More rain. Much more.


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