Monica Seles welcomed the latest deluge at Wimbledon on Saturday. At least it cleared the air of choking smoke hovering above the stadium from a flat fire.
Nor were Todd Martin, Todd Woodbridge and fans watching them put off much by the evacuation of Show Court 18, the one closest to the blaze in a 12-story building across the street, as a precaution against cascading cinders. After all, within a few minutes every court was empty and covered with puddles on top of the tarps.Thunder rocked Wimbledon louder than any applause, and the prettiest sight was not a lob or a volley but a gorgeous double rainbow arching across the sky. It was that kind of day at the All England Club.
In the interludes between showers - seven or eight, by unofficial count, that kept the tarp crews busy - some tennis did get squeezed in before play was abandoned with defending champion Pete Sampras up 6-3, 5-5 against Thomas Enqvist, and Venus and Serena Williams waiting to play on different courts.
Defending women's champ Martina Hingis floated easily into the round of 16, 6-2, 6-1 against Elena Likhovtseva, and the No. 6 Seles did the same, 6-2, 6-3 against Yayuk Basuki.
Former champion Conchita Martinez, seeded No. 8, was less lucky in the resumption of a match suspended Friday as she fell 2-6, 6-3, 7-5 to England's Samantha Smith, a 26-year-old who had never gone beyond the first round in five previous Wimbledons.
Martinez called the loss the most disappointing of her career.
"I didn't feel that I could get ready for a match because the courts did not open until 10 a.m., and then they give you a call," she said. "I was rushed the whole morning and that showed in my whole mood . . . I should have won that in two sets easy."
For the exhilarated Smith, the match was the thrill of a lifetime and the biggest victory by a British woman in a decade.
"I played some of the best tennis I think I've ever played at the right time," Smith said. "She got a little bit tentative, a little bit nervous, and I just went for it and took my chances."
In men's play, Australian Open champion and No. 3 seed Petr Korda advanced 4-6, 7-5, 7-5, 7-5 past Jerome Golmard, and No. 12 Tim Henman beat Byron Black 6-4, 6-4, 3-6, 7-5.
On a day when the play was unspectacular, and the results not at all unusual except for Martinez's defeat, the fire, showers and rainbow drew most of the attention. No one was injured in the ninth-floor apartment where the blaze began, but several residents of the building were treated for smoke inhalation and shock. No one was injured at Wimbledon, where a picnic area near the building also was evacuated.
Seles, for one, was relieved to take refuge after her match.
"I think I had yesterday about 10 warmups when we thought we would go on, but they said we had to wait," she said. "Today (we had) about three or four. And with the fire in the beginning, it was just so strange to be out there. I was hoping it's OK to breathe the air in. But in the end the rain came, and it was a good time for that."
Seles said the smell of the smoke was "pretty bad," enough so that "both Yayuk and I felt we should stop. But at the end it was probably better to just go on because it doesn't matter. We've seen everything today."
Seles reached the Wimbledon final in 1992, the year before she was stabbed in Germany, and she's in good position to make another run for the title this year now that seven-time champion Steffi Graf is gone from her half of the draw.
Seles, who reached the French Open final earlier this month a few weeks after her father's death from cancer, is playing with increasing confidence and less on her mind. She plays next against Sandrine Testud, who beat her last year at Wimbledon and this year on clay at the Italian Open.
"I just have a peace of mind in terms of I'm happy where I am right now," Seles said.