Wimbledon, England — Thunderclouds are gathering here - literally as regards the weather, metaphorically as regards the men's Wimbledon singles. Several of the matches leading up to the climax, in fact, looked a lot like finals in their own right.
Defending champion Pat Cash met and fell to young Boris Becker, winner in the two previous years, in a quarterfinal, which, before it happened, many would have liked to see as a final.
Cash lost in three straight sets and a bit of a temper. Now Becker, seeded only sixth, advances to meet top-ranked Ivan Lendl in a semifinal which ought to have been the final but for the rather odd seedings this year.
In the other section of the draw the quiet Swede Stefan Edberg, seeded No. 3, meets the Slav (not the Czech, for he is keen to draw a fine distinction) Miloslav Mecir, who brilliantly extinguished the hopes of No. 2 seed Mats Wilander of Sweden, 6-3, 6-1, 6-3.
Edberg had defeated the unseeded West German Patrick Kuhnen, one of the big surprises of this year's tournament.
It was Kuhnen who put out Jimmy Connors, who flew home not breathing fire but disappointment, criticizing both his own play and the condition of the courts.
For the women, Thursday's semifinal pairings predictably mirrored those of a year ago. Martina Navratilova meeting Chris Evert and Steffi Graf going up against Pam Shriver.
The first one came out the same way, too, as Navratilova defeated her longstanding rival once again to keep alive her bid for a seventh consecutive singles title and a record ninth overall. Martina won the first set handily, dropped a rain-interrupted second set, then prevailed in the finale for a 6-1, 4-6, 7-5 decision.
Graf, who looked ruthlessly efficient in her early matches, and Shriver, who appeared strong but at times uncertain, were playing later in the day.
Leading up to the semifinals, Navratilova had not been playing in the same convincing style she had to the same point a year ago. Martina was very cross with herself once or twice in her match against Rosalyn Fairbank (a South African now of San Diego) and with Ros once when the latter stopped her in mid-service. ``Miss Navratilova, please,'' said the umpire, explaining that a ballboy had dropped a ball just behind her. But that was the extent of it.
Fairbank might very well have won this match, indeed should have won it. She took the first set and was up 4-2 and serving in the final set when her resolution left her. It was as if she said to herself, ``What am I doing? I can't beat Martina.'' She immediately dropped three game points to fall behind 5-4, and Navratilova never gave her another chance in closing out the match, 4-6, 6-4, 7-5.
Evert defeated Helena Sukova of Czechoslovakia in straight sets. It was a match of real beauty, tough tennis, great tennis, but no hard feelings.
Graf beat the France's Pascale Paradis 6-3, 6-1, which about says it all. Shriver defeated Zina Garrison, who had earlier sent the young and beautiful Argentinian Gabriela Sabatini home disconsolate.
Among the women, only Fairbank came unexpectedly out of the pack. But there were several surprises among the men. The biggest of these was Kuhnen.
Kuhnen won more matches here than he had won in eight previous Grand Prix tournaments, climaxing his big performance by upsetting Jimmy Connors.
It was a bitter five set struggle. Previously, Connors had just survived another five-setter against Derrick Rostagno. Kuhnen, a 6 ft. 2 in. 22-year-old, played efficient and powerful tennis and was perhaps just too fresh and young for his opponent.
Jimmy was very critical of the courts. They were all chewed up after the first three days, he said. Even those who win are talking about them.
The blame, if any, must go to the fickle English weather. A very wet spring and a very dry June have distressed the surface. There has even been talk of replacing the grass with some other surface. But it is only talk.
This is where it all began, a game invented for grass. It has proved a worldwide game suitable for almost any kind of available hard surface, but the green grass of Wimbledon remains for most fans and most players the ultimate test.