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18 grass courts, one clay crater

At a place steeped in history, it appears as if archeologists have taken over.

The Championships at Wimbledon begin today in a slightly altered setting. There are now 18 grass courts and one crater of clay.

Wimbledon is building a new, larger Court One as part of the All England Club's largest improvement project since it moved to Church Road in 1922. The court is scheduled to be ready in 1997.

The new Court One will have a seating capacity of 11,500. That compares with 6,500 for the 71-year-old Court One.

The existing Court One will be torn down and replaced by a building with facilities for players, club members and the media.

Goggles, anyone?: Netcord 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.

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

So Long Sampras: Fans showing up at Wimbledon yesterday could be forgiven for believing defending champion Pete Sampras already was 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 the opening day are 100-1.

Germans withdraw: Boris Becker and Steffi Graf appear to have overcome pre-Wimbledon problems. But two more German players, Oliver Gross and Barbara Rittner, pulled out of the championships yesterday. Gross has a broken foot bone, and Wimbledon officials were awaiting details of Rittner's injury.