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There was nothing wrong with Wimbledon that a few layers of cashmere and a handful of mood elevators couldn't have fixed. Some of the images that cut through the gray, drizzled fortnight: Andre Agassi's bolt of white cloth, Jennifer Capriati's laser strokes, the shouting absence of top-ranked Monica Seles and a giddy, unprecedented middle Sunday that was the true star of the tournament. In the end, this cheerless Wimbledon was won by a pair of countrymen who flat slammed their way out of the murk—Steffi Graf and Michael Stich of Germany.
It was not a Wimbledon for the impatient, the distracted, the aging or the unconfident. Nothing and no one was stronger than the weather, not even the blistering serve of Stich, who arrived at Wimbledon as an unheralded, cranelike 22-year-old from Elmshorn, near Hamburg. Two weeks later he had defeated Stefan Edberg, the top seed and defending champion, in a four-set semifinal and then, in his first Grand Slam final, toppled his redheaded compatriot Boris Becker with a delivery that reached 126 mph. After falling to Stich in straight sets 6-4, 7-6, 6-4, Becker, a three-time Wimbledon champion and six-time finalist, blamed the inclement weather for shortening his temper and exhausting his always delicate spirits. He had been forced to play five oft-interrupted matches in seven days, while Stich's passage through the tournament was relatively smooth. "It took its toll," said Becker of the havoc wreaked by the rain. "It was not me out there. I never had a chance to win."
The weather affected the entire tournament. The temperatures for June were the coldest in England in 332 years, and rainfall hampered the scheduling on all but the last four days. But when the weather finally turned for the better, so did the tennis, particularly for the 22-year-old Graf. In the final, she twice held off third-ranked Gabriela Sabatini in the third set and closed out the 6-4, 3-6, 8-6 match with an executioner's forehand. "I needed this," said Graf, who had won Wimbledon in 1988 and '89 but had gone 18 months without a Grand Slam triumph and had fallen to No. 2 in the rankings. "I needed it for myself."
Similiarly, Stich, who served 97 aces in the tournament, found himself awash with emotion at the moment of triumph. He was close to tears as Becker embraced him following Wimbledon's first all-German final. This insurrectionist, seeded sixth but winner of only one previous pro tournament, an indoor event in Memphis in 1990, had been established by the oddsmakers as a 66-to-1 shot to win the title. Yet Stich dealt Becker only his third loss in 27 appearances on Centre Court and his first in straight sets.
Rain created mass confusion in the men's draw, as did the presence of six players in the quarterfinals who had never before advanced that far at Wimbledon. Pete Sampras, Goran Ivanisevic, John McEnroe and Ivan Lendl were all gone by the fourth round. "It was not the nicest of trips I've had," said Lendl after falling in four sets in the third round to unseeded David Wheaton of Lake Minnetonka, Minn. Edberg defeated McEnroe in straight sets in the next round, "it's insane, I'm insane, we're all insane," said McEnroe of the waterlogged fortnight, shortly before he made a fit of an exit, hurling several expletives at a line judge and drawing a fine of $10,000.
Rain forced officials to declare the middle Sunday a day of play for the first time in the tournament's 114-year history. Normally, one can primarily obtain Wimbledon tickets by being an All England Club member or by winning the right to buy them in a lottery, but for this day they were sold on a first-come, first-served basis. The result was the most stirring day in Wimbledon history, with the crowds behaving as if they were at a football match. Defending champion Martina Navratilova emerged from the locker room to lead a Wave on Centre Court, Sabatini got the giggles when fans wolf-whistled her as she took off her warmup jacket, and Jimmy Connors said, "Where have they been for the last 20 years?"
Rain postponed Agassi's all-white debut for three days, which only heightened the silly drama of his first Centre Court appearance. Once a derider of the All England Club, Agassi did a public relations about-face. In his first Wimbledon appearance since 1987, he became a stammering, self-deprecating, if contrived, hit. "I have to admit I got caught up in the excitement and classiness of it all," he said. But Agassi blew his cover when he donned a pair of sleek Oakley sunglasses in the middle of his fourth-round defeat of Jacco Eltingh of Holland.
Rain made speculation on Seles's whereabouts the alternative sport of the fortnight. Seles, 17, who had won the Australian and French championships, the first two legs of the Grand Slam, withdrew from Wimbledon only 72 hours before it began. She then created a swirl of intrigue with a press release that stated only that she had suffered "a minor accident." Did this mean that Seles a) had fallen from her bicycle and skinned a knee? b) was about to undergo major knee surgery? or c) as the The Sun, a London tabloid, put it, IS MONICA A WIMBLEMUM?
In truth, Seles is most likely suffering from a painful case of shin splints caused by overplaying. Yet she forbade her representatives at IMG, who already considered her their most demanding client, to deny even the most outlandish rumors. Moreover, she had canceled the house she planned to rent in Wimbledon several days before the tournament. Thus, it appeared that Seles had decided not to play long before she officially withdrew. By backing out, was she protecting a hefty incentive clause in her Yonex racket contract that would be guaranteed if she were No. 1 after Wimbledon? She could have dropped to No. 2 had she entered and failed to reach the quarterfinals, which she reached last year. Her behavior seemed frivolous and self-absorbed. "She thinks she's Madonna," said a fellow player. Women's Tennis Association executive director and CEO Gerard Smith, whose phone calls to Seles went unreturned, announced "an inquiry" into her withdrawal and a $6,000 fine. Seles is scheduled to appear in a lucrative exhibition in Mahwah, N.J., starting on July 15.
Rain, too, interrupted Navratilova's quarterfinal loss to Capriati. The match was suspended overnight with Capriati having a 6-4 set in hand but trailing 3-2 on Navratilova's serve in the second. That evening, Stefano Capriati told his daughter, "Just go out and enjoy. Play. Have fun." That is exactly what she did the next morning, summoning up shots like a perfect backhand lob on the last of Navratilova's eight unconverted break points at 5-5. As the shot passed overhead, Navratilova whirled, stared and applauded with her racket. In the next game she lost her serve and her nerve, hitting a weary double fault on match point.