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Weathering rains

Nadal’s third round match against Robin Soderling lasted longer than last week’s second cricket Test between Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, writes Akshay Sawai.
None | By Akshay Sawai
UPDATED ON JUL 09, 2007 05:44 PM IST

A Wimbledon that struggled to catch the spark initially is now on a roll. Starting from the Serena Williams-Justine Henin match on Thursday, the tennis has been splendid. The weather has cooperated.

We have seen top-class skill and athleticism — the prerequisites of a stimulating sporting cocktail, whatever the proponents of slow games say. Marion Bartoli, the charming Frenchwoman who made a surprise entry into the women’s final, also brought a dash of peculiarity to the mix with her unusual serve.

Organisers had a tough time at the All England Club before the clouds cleared late this week. This was one of the rainiest Wimbledons ever. You wouldn’t have wanted to be in chief referee Andrew Jarrett’s shoes. A) They would have been wet. B)

It can’t be fun being a referee when you have a huge backlog of matches to finish and you are being pilloried. But all’s well that ends dry. Jarrett, a former player who took over the organisational reins from the genial Alan Mills, has been rewarded for his toil with a dream final in the men’s singles — Roger Federer vs Rafael Nadal.

Nothing is more illustrative of the frustration and delay caused by the rain than Nadal’s third round against Robin Soderling. The match started on June 30 and ended on July 4, 92 hours and 32 minutes after the players hit their first ball. It lasted longer than last week’s second Test between Sri Lanka and Bangladesh in Colombo.

Ironically, rain ravaged the tournament in a year it took huge, unpopular steps to counter the menace. The club is in the process of installing a sliding roof over Centre Court. It will be in place in 2009. But the work has begun. This year, as we know, Centre Court was without its famous top.

Its halo stripped, the stage just didn’t look the same. Even Federer said so, if not in as many words. I hope the new design retains the aura of the old roof. Till then, we have to grit our teeth and wait it out.

Bartoli doesn’t seem to have done anything to her hair. It’s dark and long. It adds to the effect when she stands at the baseline before serving, shaking, hopping and concentrating as if she were a tantrik seized by some occult force.

As a Henin fan, I should dislike Bartoli. She defeated her in the semifinals. But I was quite enamoured. There was a sweetness about her and she went about her task without caring what the world thought about her style or her butt.

Sunday evening is the men’s final between those two extraordinary players — Federer and Nadal. One epitomises grace, the other fitness. Federer defeated Nadal in the final last year and is the favourite to defend his title. But I won’t be surprised if Nadal won.

Federer has often been hitting short of ideal length and has been error-prone. Nadal, despite his unkind duty chart this week, has been relentless, hitting deep and not giving much away. Federer must use the volley and impart sharp angle to his shots if he’s to win title No. 5 and match Bjorn Borg’s record.

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