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Judges To Get A New Look, To Don Goggles

Net-cord judges will wear goggles at the Wimbledon championships for the first time starting today to protect them from power hitters.

The men and women who are in the firing line by the net will wear wrap-around protective glasses similar to those used by squash players.

The idea comes from the British Tennis Umpires Association with the agreement of the All England Club, which stages the tournament.

As well as having to deal with booming serves of 130 mph, the net-cord judges often get the ball flying past their heads during rallies on the fast grass courts.

So long Sampras

Fans showing up at Wimbledon on Sunday, the day before the tournament started, could be forgiven for believing defending champion Pete Sampras was already flying home in defeat.

According to the electronic scoreboard on Centre Court, Sampras lost in straight sets to his first-round opponent, Karsten Braasch of Germany, 6-2, 6-3, 6-1.

Tournament officials were testing the scoreboard before play begins today. The odds on Sampras actually losing in straight sets on opening day are 100-1.

Andre’s odds shorten

Top-seeded Andre Agassi remains second favorite behind defending titlist Sampras with the bookmakers, although Ladbrokes shortened his odds to 9-2 from 5-1 Sunday.

Sampras is the 10-11 favorite to win the title for the third year in a row. Behind Agassi come three-time titlist Boris Becker at 6-1, Goran Ivanisevic at 8-1 and 1991 champion Michael Stich at 12-1.

Top-seeded Steffi Graf, who is aiming for her sixth title but lost in the first round last year, is the 1-2 women’s favorite while defending champion Conchita Martinez is 4-1. Australian Open titlist Mary Pierce, making her debut at the grass-court tournament, is third favorite at 9-1.

German withdrawals

Becker, with a calf strain, and Graf, with a wrist injury, appear to have overcome pre-Wimbledon problems. But two more German players, Oliver Gross and Barbara Rittner, pulled out of the championships on Sunday.

Gross, whose first-round match against Pat Cash will now be taken by Belgium’s Dick Norman, has a broken foot bone.

Rittner, due to face French player Nathalie Tauziat, is replaced by Maria Vento of Venezuela. Wimbledon officials were awaiting details of Rittner’s injury.

Buster blasts brits

The last British man to win the Wimbledon title died four months ago at age 85.

Four days after a memorial to the great Fred Perry (champion in 1934-36) at St Paul’s Cathedral, the latest group of British players go into the tournament knowing any appearances past the second round will be looked on as a triumph by the home fans.

Now Buster Mottram, the last British man to be seeded back in 1982, has attacked the state of the game in his country. He says the current players are “overlypampered and cosseted with wild cards at every major British tournament.

“It means the only way they can play in the world’s premier tournament is through charity,” Mottram, said. “The question is should Wimbledon or the Lawn Tennis Association continue to give wild cards generously year after year to the same old faces who have made no improvement in the international rankings?”