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Matches suspended, postponed by rain at Wimbledon

WIMBLEDON, England -- Martina Hingis played at Wimbledon for
the first time since 2001, and it was as though she never left.
Those crafty strokes. Well-timed net rushes. And rain.

Ah, yes, rain.

Day 1 at the All England Club began with sprinkles that delayed
the start of the tournament for an hour. After about 30 minutes of
action Monday, time enough for Hingis to win the first set against
Olga Savchuk of Ukraine 6-2, rain returned and halted play for
good.

"I don't like Wimbledon," said Hingis' mother and coach,
Melanie Molitor. Then she sighed, motioned toward the sky and
added, "The weather."

A drizzle grew to a downpour by mid-afternoon, when organizers
began postponing matches. Only 17 of 64 scheduled matches got
under way, with zero completed. Because of the backlog, some players
originally slated to debut Tuesday -- including defending champion
Venus Williams and No. 1-seeded Amelie Mauresmo -- won't get on
court until Wednesday, at the earliest.

Tuesday's forecast calls for afternoon showers.

Rain at Wimbledon hardly is surprising, of course, but southern
England has been dealing with a drought that prompted authorities
to tell people not to water their gardens.

With thick cloud cover, defending champion Roger Federer was the
first player on Centre Court, and what an entrance he made. He
strode out wearing a cream-colored blazer, with a crest and his
name stitched on the chest.

Something with a hood would have been more appropriate.

Bidding for what would be a record 42nd consecutive victory on
grass, Federer draped his jacket on the back of his chair, then
started against Richard Gasquet of France with an ace, followed by
a double-fault. Federer held serve, then broke Gasquet, who
appeared tentative on the slippery grass.

Federer won the set 6-3, closing with an ace, and was about to
serve trailing 2-1 in the second when the rain returned.

He wasn't the only one with new threads: On-court officials and
ball kids wore blue outfits under a new $10 million deal with Polo
Ralph Lauren Corp., the first outside company in the tournament's
129-year history to design the uniforms.

Another innovation coming to the sport's most tradition-devoted
event: a retractable roof on Centre Court. Alas, that's not
projected to be in place until 2009; signs detailing the
construction timeline dot the grounds. It'll help at a tournament
that last went without rain in 1995.

For Hingis, everything old feels new again as she continues her
comeback after three years off the tour because of a series of foot
and ankle injuries and operations.

She won Wimbledon in 1997 at age 16, the youngest champion since
1887, and sure looked like a 25-year-old contender Monday. Playing
on Court 2, the "Graveyard of Champions," Hingis had little
trouble taking control, even though her 90 mph first serves seemed
like lobs compared to Savchuck's offerings that consistently
approached 120 mph.

"I look at it like this is the second time around, you know,
second career," the five-time Grand Slam champion said during the
weekend. "In some ways, I feel like a rookie again because it has
been so long since I have played here."

Her footwork was fine, as was her sleight of hand. When Hingis
broke serve to end the first set -- a game that included nine deuces
and five set points -- she hit a well-disguised, half-volley drop
shot. The set ended when she tracked down a drop shot, and Savchuk
botched a backhand.

That was it for the day, though organizers repeatedly made
announcements on the public-address system indicating they hoped to
resume play; less than an hour of action calls for full refunds on
tickets.

"Thank you for your patience during this frustrating day," the
voice intoned.

Fans huddled under umbrellas or gathered in the merchandise
shops or waited in line for the new Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum.

Four-time semifinalist Tim Henman went across the street to
indoor practice courts. The Englishman's match was among those
postponed; he could face Federer in the second round.

"I've had my share of rain delays over the years," said
Henman, at his 13th Wimbledon. "It's just a question of being
patient and making sure you're ready to go."

Some sought refuge in the players' lounge or restaurant, the
latter so crowded that French Open champion Rafael Nadal wandered
around with a plate of pasta, unable to find a seat. No. 8-seeded
James Blake sat with his mother while his brother played cards
nearby.

"We'll all be used to this by the end of the fortnight, I'm
sure," Blake said.

Not everyone found the downpours deflating.

Vince Spadea, an unseeded American slated to face No. 28
Fernando Verdasco of Spain, has played at Wimbledon 10 times
previously, only once making it past the second round. That was in
2004, one of the wettest Wimbledons, with two days completely
washed out and all but three days interrupted by rain.

"This gives me a chance, because the best I've ever done here
was the fourth round, and it rained, like, every day that year,"
Spadea said. "So I'm liking the deja vu."