Wimbledon fans singing in the rain Impromptu talent show brightens gloomy day

July 04, 1996|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

WIMBLEDON, England -- If Dutch artist Jan Vermeer still were painting, the young girl leaning against the rail in the stands above Wimbledon's Court No. 1 would have been an inspiration.

She stood there, in the English gloom, in her fresh blue-and-white checked skirt that reached just below her knees. A blue jean jacket covered a black sweat shirt that covered a white blouse, and topping off her ensemble was the perfect straw hat with a pink ribbon fastened around the crown and trailing down the back.

Delight showed in her ceaseless smile.

"This is almost more fun than the match," said Nicky Amiabel, 11, looking up at her father beside her.

"Nicky doesn't speak much English," said her father, Michael, who came with his daughter from Holland for her first Wimbledon. "But she's been telling me, too, how much fun this is. And it is fun. I've been before, but before I only saw tennis, never have I seen singing like this."

Say what you will about the British, they certainly know how to throw a party in the rain.

Yesterday, bad weather delayed and finally postponed the men's quarterfinals, interrupting No. 1 seed Pete Sampras and Richard Krajicek on Centre Court and No. 4 Goran Ivanisevic and Jason Stoltenberg on Court No. 1.

While the players tried to entertain themselves in the locker room, fans on Court 1 entertained Nicky and each other with a sing-along and a comedy routine of sorts by members of the British military.

On Centre Court, aging British pop star "Sir" Cliff Richard got out of his seat in the Royal Box and presented an impromptu concert that had the staid All England Club rocking. Even those seated in the Royal Box turned to watch his performance, and clapped politely after each song.

"This is the most unusual experience of my career," said Richard, as he sang old hits such as "Bachelor Boy" and Elvis' "All Shook Up." "I never thought I'd be playing Centre Court. Who'd ever dream up a gig like this?"

Behind him, about a dozen current and former players from the women's tour, including Baltimore's Pam Shriver, Martina Navratilova, Conchita Martinez, Mary Joe Fernandez and Virginia Wade, emerged from the locker room and acted as his backup group.

At the entrances, the guards had given up on checking tickets.

"This lot's not supposed to be in here," said one guard, not BTC unhappily. "But they hear him and they've come from all directions. We're just letting them sit where they like."

They have sung on Centre Court before. In 1991, the year there was so much rain, Wimbledon officials were forced to schedule play on the tournament's middle Sunday. One song leader that day sang so well, he was given a professional tryout afterward.

But what Nicky was enjoying so much on Court 1 was Royal Marine Sgt. Major Chris Bateman leading the crowd in "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes," a children's song taught in primary school "to teach the young ones where their body parts are."

Evidently, the No. 1 Court crowd was all in attendance when that song was taught, because everyone sang and almost everyone went through the motions of touching head, shoulders, knees and toes -- regardless of whether they were holding an umbrella.

"Oh, yes, this is all written into our duties: to motivate and encourage the public and to ensure everyone has a good time, no matter the weather," said Royal Army and Medical Corps Staff Sgt. Shultz Wright, dryly, as members of the Royal Electrical Mechanical Engineers led the crowd in "Old McDonald Had a Farm," charades and various versions of the wave.

"We're all going to get sacked after today," Lance Cpl. Simon Murley said with mock sadness. "Cheers!"

Ball girls and boys gathered at one of the entrances to the court and joined in the fun. Even when the rain came down heavily, they did not run for shelter, choosing instead to burst into song, "We're singing in the rain. . . . We're happy again."

As was everyone, it seemed.

Today's feature matches

(Seeds in parentheses)

Men: Tim Henman, Britain, vs. Todd Martin (13), Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. Pete Sampras (1), Tampa, Fla., vs. Richard Krajicek, Netherlands. MaliVai Washington, Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., vs. Alexander Radulescu, Germany. Goran Ivanisevic (4), Croatia, vs. Jason Stoltenberg, Australia.

Women: Arantxa Sanchez Vicario (4), Spain, vs. Meredith McGrath, Midland, Mich. Steffi Graf (1), Germany, vs. Kimiko Date (12), Japan

Mixed: Rikard Bergh, Sweden, and Kimberly Po, Rolling Hills, Calif., vs. Pat Cash, Australia, and Mary Pierce, France. Brian MacPhie, San Jose, Calif., and Tami Whitlinger-Jones, Henderson, Nev., vs. Patrick Galbraith, Seattle, and Pam Shriver (5), Baltimore.

Pub Date: 7/04/96

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