Soggy, but undaunted Wimbledon sloshes into second week of play

The 1982 Wimbledon tennis tournament battled its way into its second and final week defying the worst June weather for 30 years, a subway strike, and a railroad strike, with a backlog of 120 unplayed matches and another gloomy weather forecast - yet in an altogether fresher, brighter and more philosophical mood.

How it will finish, when it will finish, whether it will finish in its entirety, all are uncertain. But Wimbledon is unlikely ever to be quite the same again, that's for sure.

Thunder clears the air. Much of the old stuffiness has gone.

As for the tournament, some of the favorites with the crowds have also gone.

Ilie Nastase packed them into No. 2 court for his first round match. Unshaven for several days, he looked mean and menacing, but 23-year-old American Lloyd Bourne swept him efficiently aside 6-1, 6-3, 3-6, 6-4.

Evonne Goolagong Cawley of Australia, looking for a third Wimbledon title, bowed to 18-year-old Zina Garrison from Texas, 6-4, 6-2. Evonne, as delightful in defeat as in victory, said afterwards, ''You'll hear a lot more of this girl. I was hitting winners but she kept getting them back.'' The experts talked of Zina as perhaps the most promising black woman player to arrive here since Althea Gibson, winner back-to-back in 1957 and '58.

Hana Mandlikova, last year's runnerup and this year's No. 5 seed, was swept out by Candy Reynolds 6-3, 2-6, 6-4.

But Billie Jean King, muttering darkly to herself between the showers and the shots, eventually managed to overpower an inspired Tanya Harford of South Africa in a tremendously keen, exciting third round match. Down a set, trailing 6-5 in the second, and serving at 0-40, she saved all three match points, won the tiebreaker, and went on to take the match 5-7, 7-6 (7-2), 6-3.

Billie Jean has already won 20 Wimbledon titles, beginning with a doubles victory in 1961 and including six singles crowns. This year, however, she was thought to be here more for the tennis than for any dreams of victory - yet, well, you never know.

Martina Navratilova, sporting a rather severe, even menacing haircut and supported at the ringside by coach Renee Richards and trainer Nancy Lieberman, came here determined to win. Already a two-time winner here (1978 and 1979), she wants to hold Wimbledon and the Australian, French and United States titles all in the same year - the Grand Slam.

Martina is at peak form, but as the second week began, the greatest threat to her as usual was the current titleholder, Chris Evert Lloyd, her antithesis in so many respests. The sheer gracefulness of Evert Lloyd masks a steely will and a quiet but ruthless efficiency.

Among the men the top seeds sailed through into the second week. But No. 1 John McEnroe has sometimes seemed less than masterful, and has been in temporary trouble against players out of sight beneath him in the rankings. He took two hours to defeat unknown Eddie Edwards of South Africa and allowed his opponent five games in the third and final set. Is the defending champion really in top form? The experts are uncertain.

John is, however, definitely trying to master his frustrations. Deep down, I think, he really wants to be accepted in the All-England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club - not only as a great player but as a great sportsman.

Jimmy Connors, pugnacious as ever, seemed sharper during the first week than McEnroe. Vitas Gerulaitis looked strong too.

One by one all of Britain's hopefuls except one packed their bags during the first week. That one was Buster Mottram, a man of uncertain temperament and tennis, who rose to the occasion in a match against hard-serving American Victor Amaya that was several times interrupted by deluges of rain. It took six hours and eight minutes for the two to finish. Whenever it was interrupted the crowd, reasonably dressed in raingear and heavy jackets, were encouraged to amuse themselves with a bit of community singing.

Besides the rain and the strikes, this year's tournament has had to overcome the absence of five-time winner Bjorn Borg, who declined to play because the rules said he had to qualify, and also Ivan Lendl, the Czech star who has been one of the world's leading players over the past eight or nine months but does not feel his game is suited to grass.

For Borg and Wimbledon, however, there is happy news as far as the future goes. The Men's International Professional Tennis Council has agreed to amend its rules regarding qualification for the Grand Prix circuit in 1983.

One important change will be that the big four events - Wimbledon, the French Open, the Australian Open, and the United States Open - will grant direct entry to any player who has won the title during the three previous years. Arrangements for qualifying tournaments will also be eased.

Overall in the tennis world the air seems to be clearing. And certainly here there's a great effort to remove the stuffiness from Wimbledon's atmosphere.

In this light the rain seems almost an advantage. What's the point of taking the game too seriously now?

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