Big Names Move to Center Of a Wacky Wimbledon

SPEAKING of the various distractions at this year's Wimbledon tournament, one scribe compared it to a Monty Python sketch - what with an umpire-slapping tantrum by a player's wife, the momentary disappearance of doubles player Murphy Jensen, record heat, three player defaults, the introduction of softer balls, and major construction work going on at the center of the grounds.

Andre Agassi seemed to fit right into this zany atmosphere when he threw a kiss toward the royal box, perhaps unaware that British rugby players were the momentary occupants. With all this, ''Tennis, anyone?'' may have seemed a legitimate question.

In fact, the tournament has produced lots of memorable shotmaking by the game's greats. The top four men and women reached the semifinals for the first time since Wimbledon began seeding players in 1927.

Paired today in one men's semifinal match are top-seeded Agassi and third-seeded Boris Becker, who won a five-set quarterfinal marathon over Cedric Pilione that went to 9-7 in the final set. In the other semi, defending champion Pete Sampras (No. 2) goes against No. 4 Goran Ivanisevic of Croatia. On Thursday, Steffi Graf, Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, Conchita Martinez, and Jana Novotna - seeded 1, 2, 3, 4, respectively - played semifinals.

Touching other bases

* Pop quiz: Besides New York, which three American communities have hosted crosstown World Series? (Answer below.)

* Investors contemplating trends in the sports and recreation market have only to think ''in-line.'' Thomas Doyle, director of information and research for the National Sporting Goods Association, says that in-line skating will continue as the fastest growing equipment category this year (sales were up 35 percent in 1994). ''We have yet to see the impact of roller hockey, which is now attracting the pre-junior high crowd,'' Doyle says.

* The Federation Internationale des Quilleurs, the ''small ball'' governing body, brings the bowling world championships to a spectacular new 80-lane facility built just for bowling at the Reno/Sparks Convention Center in Reno, Nev., July 9-15. The last time the United States, the dominant world power, hosted the tournament was in 1971 in Milwaukee. More than 50 nations are expected to send teams to this amateur gathering.

* Cheerleading will become a recognized high school sport in Florida beginning with the 1996-97 school year. And, yes, there will be a state championship.

* Quiz answer: Chicago, St. Louis, and San Francisco-Oakland have all hosted World Series confined to one metropolitan area. In 1906, Chicago's White Sox and Cubs squared off, and in 1944 the St. Louis Cardinals and Browns met in a trolley-car Series. In 1989, the Giants and A's met in an earthquake-delayed Bay Area series.

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