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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Sunday Tennis Raises a Racket

WIMBLEDON, England -- The youthful crowd chanted, sang and waved flags. Fans shouted during points, cheered double faults and generally gave tennis etiquette a beating.


Wimbledon was a winner anyway.


The only previous middle Sunday matches, six years ago, drew comparisons to Woodstock. This was better than Woodstock II.


"My type of crowd,'' said NBC commentator John McEnroe, who played on middle Sunday in 1991. "Today was great. The excitement was definitely there for tennis. They should do it every year.''


A week of rain delays forced Wimbledon to schedule matches Sunday, a traditional off day. A crowd of 31,204 was admitted on a first-come, first-served basis for bargain prices of ?5 to ?15 ($8.25 to $24.75).


The club's customary upper-crust crowds gave way to fans wearing orange wigs, painted faces, rugby uniforms and even Union Jack top hats. They made enough noise for an entire nation, particularly while cheering top Brits Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski to victory.


When the gates opened, fans sprinted for Center Court, and no wonder. Many had waited a lifetime to see Wimbledon. Once inside, average fan Joe Bloke raised a racket.


The players, at least those who won, also applauded the youthful crowd -- literally. Henman and a beaming Monica Seles clapped as they walked off Center Court.


"The crowd was very spontaneous,'' Seles said. "They were much more into the match than usual, yelling many more things. It's much more exciting to play a match like that.''


Fans may have been the difference in Henman's five-set thriller against Paul Haarhuis. They took Henmania to a new level of patriotism by unfurling British flags, chanting "Hen-man! Hen-man!'' and cheering Haarhuis' double faults in the 14-12 final set.


Elsewhere on the grounds, the atmosphere also seemed different as corporate hospitality tents stood mostly empty.


In anticipation of middle Sunday, hundreds of fans spent the night in line. They began queuing up even before the decision to play was announced.


"I've always wanted to come to Wimbledon,'' one woman said. "This is one of the highlights of my life.''


By mid-morning, there were two mile-long lines.


"Where do I go to join the queue to get in?'' a late-arriving fan asked.


"At the end,'' came the reply. Thousands stayed until the final shot of the day, nine hours after it began, cheering to the end. Henman had a parting message.


"Come back again as soon as possible,'' he said. "Unfortunately I don't think a lot of them will be there for my next match.''