Wimbledon, England — The tennis is terrific even if incidents of rudeness from players to other players, to officials, and in confrontations with the press have made newspaper headlines. The atmosphere on some courts is tense, and good humor as well as good sportsmanship seem to suffer, but as play progresses and the better players succeed, the tension lessens while the play sharpens, and graciousness is evident.
"Old hands" at Wimbledon say it's some of the best play they've seen in years , particulary among the top 10 in men's singles. Jimmy Connors, more mature, more gentlemanly, still with that intense concentration and all-out aggression on each shot, is, critics agree, "at the top of his form."
Yet a strong, young Swiss player, Heinz Gunthardt, challenged the No. 3 seed drive for drive, lob for lob, ace for ace in third-round play before yielding in the fourth set.
Second-seeded John McEnroe has nearly fallen under strong barrages from Tony rocavert, one of 35 Australian men in the tournament, and from Tom Okker of the Netherlands, a Wimbledon quarterfinalist four times. McEnroe, who next faces South Africa's Kevin Curren, is in the same half of the draw as Connors -- setting up a prospective semifinal clash of the two Americans unless one or the other gets upset along the way.
In the other half of the draw, top-seeded four-time champion Bjorn Borg has not been in any real trouble, although Rod Frawley of Australia gave him enough of a game in the third round to bring gasps and enthusiastic clapping from a delighted crowd on Court 1.
No. 5 Roscoe Tanner, the American with the big serve, and Paul McNamee, another exciting Australian player, swayed their battle back and forth on Centre Court before Tanner emerged the Victor. Roscoe, who gave Borg all he could handle before dropping a dramatic five-set match in last year's final, now plays Nick Saviano, who knocked off No. 9 Pat DuPre.
Rain, wind, hail, and even some sunshine have been troubling factors in play during the first week. Players accustomed to hours of practice on courts whose surface is akin to that on which the tournament will be played have been denied that opportunity. And the intermittent rain not only has interrupted play, but has softened the courts disturbingly.
And while most play takes place under cloudy skies, on occasion the sun breaks through completely changing the shadows and disturbing serves and lobs. In addition, because so many matches were postponed due to the rain, play begins at noon instead of at 2 p.m., with the sun, on its brief appearances, sometimes blinding the the players at key moments.
The women's single matches have generally gone according to form, with no major upsets registered so far. Top-seeded Martina Navratilova and second-seeded Tracy Austin have beaten their competition, but not always with ease. In a match delayed once and interrupted twice by rain, Navratilova finally prevailed to beat South African Tanya Harford 6- 3, 3-6, 6-3 in third round action. The victory sets up the tournament's first showdown of seeded players, with No. 10 Kathy Jordan scheduled to meet the defending champion.
Evonne Goolagong, Chris Evert Lloyd, Virginia Wade (not so easy for her), and Billie Jean King have also progressed to fourth- round play.
Betty Stove of the Netherlands, who's unseeded but met Wade in the finals three years ago, gave Australia's Goolagong a real test. Stove made most of her points on brilliant volleys, yet those that missed led to her defeat 3-6, 6-2, 6 -3.
King, fifth seeded, easily toppled Peanut Louie 6-2, 6-2 to advance to the final 16, while No. 14 Andrea Jaeger, the youngest Wimbledon competitor, breezed along even more easily with a 6-1, 6-1 win over fellow American, Jane Stratton.
Pam Shriver, the young American who reached the finals of the US Open two years ago and whose powerful serve-and-volley game is made to order for Wimbledon's grass game is made to order for Wimbledon's grass courts, had her hands full in an exciting match with Sylvia Hanika of West Germany before emerging victorious 6-3, 1-6, 9-7.