Vicious storm hits tennis

2008-02-12 00:00

A FURIOUS thunderstorm that came out of nowhere interrupted the first round of the SA Airways Tennis Open in East London yesterday.

Players, spectators and officials scurried for cover at 1.30 pm. Flags and banners were lost in the galeforce wind, while people were drenched in seconds before finding shelter inside the Selborne Park Tennis Stadium.

The five-minute storm — the likes of which local residents had not seen in 40 years — also overturned hospitality tents and flooded the media centre, causing a two-and-a-half hour electricity shutdown, while outside the stadium sturdy trees were uprooted and the roofs of houses caved in.

At that stage of the third match, the unseeded Ivo Klec of Slovakia had won the first set 7-5 before sixth seed Frederico Gil of Portugal fought back to lead the second 6-5.

ATP tournament supervisor Gerry Armstrong of England ruled that the day’s attractive doubles matches would be postponed, while there was almost a three-hour delay before the Gil/Klec clash resumed on centre court. Ultimately Gil won 5-7 7-5 7-5.

In the remaining match, eighth seed Stefano Galvani of Italy took on Germany’s Bjorn Phau and won 6-3 6-3, the encounter closing the day’s play at 7.35 pm.

During the tennis lull, the media were entertained by an enjoyable press conference with the Swedes — third seed Thomas Johansson and number four Jonas Bjorkman.

The amiable Swedes had just flown in from Israel, where they had weathered an ardent Israeli crowd and determined opponents to win their Davis Cup tie.

“I am feeling good,” said Bjorkman. “The atmosphere was unbelievable there and we also won the tie, which gives us a lot of confidence for the SAA Open and we are excited to be here.”

Johansson was amazed at the ferocity of the storm just an hour before.

“The storm broke as we were about to get off the plane, so we were lucky in that way as we stayed put for 20 minutes, but I have never seen anything like it,” he said.

Bjorkman said he felt it would also be a strong doubles tournament.

“In the U.S., many tennis fans prefer doubles to singles as they say it is more exciting. In doubles you always have a leader of the pair, and I am looking forward to playing with my new partner Kevin [Ullyett of Zimbabwe].”

Bjorkman and Ullyett are the top seeds with Rik de Voest and Wesley Moodie of SA seeded second.

In the calm before the storm, Laurent Recouderc of France thumped South African wildcard Damien Hume into a 6-0 6-3 submission and Ricardo Mello of Brazil beat Pavel Snobel of the Czech Republic 6-3 6-2.

Today features several excellent matches with top seed and world number 24 Ivan Ljubicic of Croatia the highlight. Johannson and Bjorkman begin their campaign tomorrow, as does another late Davis Cup arrival, second seed Stefan Koubek of Austria (they had been playing the United States).

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