It's the pace that has ruled so far at this year's All-England Lawn Tennis Championships. The courts have been extremely and unusually fast, testing many of the competitors to the utmost. Should the weather stay dry they can only get faster, putting a premium on power and reflexes, thereby further improving the chances of the big servers.
Of course this is England. The weather may not hold. Already shower clouds have bowled south from damp northern climes toward the sunbaked southern afternoons. Over here you never can tell.
But the first few days have been splendid - sunhats, dark glasses, the biggest crowds ever, and unparalleled speed of shot. To stand almost at arm's length from the players in one of the narrow paths dividing the outer courts and experience a big serve almost at first hand is to wonder how anybody can return such thunderbolts - and to realize that every player here, even if 125th in the rankings, is someone of exceptional talent.
Most attention naturally focuses on the center court and its companion No. 1 court. On Monday defending champion John McEnroe came out from the tunnel with Australia's Paul McNamee to start proceedings, bowed to the royal box and the duke and duchess of Kent, and was immediately sent back to the dressing room to change his shorts. He had donned dark blue ones when the rules clearly state ''competitors must be dressed predominantly in white throughout.''
The crowd seemed to appreciate the joke, if joke it was. But the cheers for McNamee's winners were louder than for McEnroe's. However, John was on his best behavior, and although he received a few frights in the first set and lost the third on a tie-break he eventually imposed his full authority on the match and won the fourth and final set 6-1.
Ivan Lendl on Court One had even greater trouble with Dick Stockton than he had with the pace of the grass. He didn't seem comfortable at all struggling to a 4-6, 6-0, 6-3, 5-7, 6-4 victory. Yet the speed, when he gets used to it, should suit his serve and his sudden whipped returns.
Jimmy Connors took his first two matches in three sets each, but didn't look quite quick enough to win if he runs into Lendl in a semifinal.
Vitas Gerulaitis beat Texan Tony Giammalva in a 3-hour battle. It was a great match to watch, played with much intensity yet perfect sportsmanship. Bill Scanlon took four hours to master Eric Korita, the final set going to 13-11.
Mats Wilander, bothered by a wrist injury, doesn't expect to get too far. Jimmy Arias remains a dark horse, untested yet by a really powerful opponent.
Among the women - and this in a sense is their tournament, representing the centenary of championship tennis for them - the early pace has served merely to reinforce the position of Martina Navratilova as undisuputed favorite.
Martina showed sudden unexpected frailty when playing 19-year-old Amy Holton, and was on the verge of going down 4-1 in the second set before she roused herself from her own astonishment and took that set and the match at 7-5.
This had to help Chris Evert Lloyd's confidence. She was commanding in her first matches, as were Zena Garrison and Hana Mandlikova. Where power rules the big guns win.
British spectators have had a lot to cheer about too. Virginia Wade, Jo Durie, Sue Barker, Anne Hobbs, and Julie Salmon all began well. Among the men, John Lloyd reached Round Three looking better than ever as a singles player.