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Dent Overcomes Foul Weather, Opponent

He defeats Gonzalez in rain-delayed match at U.S. Open and evades shots that seem directed intentionally at him.

August 31, 2003|Lisa Dillman | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — He survived a three-hour rain delay, loss of rhythm on his serve, one match point and what looked to be ill-advised attempts to put a tennis ball through his body.

Saturday was like a tennis obstacle course for Taylor Dent.

Dent did it the hard way against No. 15 Fernando Gonzalez, defeating the Chilean, 7-6 (9), 6-7 (3), 3-6, 7-6 (4), 6-4, in 3 hours 22 minutes in the third round of the U.S. Open. And, for the first time, the 22-year-old from Huntington Beach reached the final 16 of a Grand Slam event. He will play No. 1 Andre Agassi or Yevgeny Kafelnikov of Russia, who will complete their match today, with Agassi leading, 6-3, 0-1.

It was never going to be easy against the human roller-coaster known as Gonzalez, who has two strategies -- hit the ball hard or hit the ball even harder. Dent didn't appreciate being the hunted, more precisely, target practice.

"It was crazy out there," said Dent, who had 26 aces and 15 double faults. "I was up at net sometimes, I'd think I'd hit a good volley and the ball would be coming back at me Mach 5 straight at my head. He was trying to hit me tonight. I don't know if that's normal."

Others may have had a word or two with Gonzalez afterward. Though Dent may have smiled when he was asked how much it upset him, he was not pleased with the behavior.

"Let's just say I was waiting for my turn," said Dent, in the hallway afterward. "I was biding my time for my turn. My coach [Brad Stine] said, 'You can't worry about that, the best revenge is a win.' "

Especially when Gonzalez had the match point in the 10th game of the fourth set. Dent, serving at 30-40, saved it when Gonzalez missed a return.

Surprisingly, Dent has his Grand Slam breakthrough with no tournament preparation before the Open. He was off the tour after Wimbledon because of a wrist injury but arrived here with considerable confidence, knowing he had trained to get in the best shape of his life.

He was the fit one at the end. Gonzalez needed attention from the trainer early in the fifth set. Dent applied relentless pressure, approaching the net 170 times and winning 111 points. The decisive service break came in the 10th game of the fifth set when Gonzalez shanked a shot off his frame and botched a swing volley and missed a forehand wide to lose the match.

"The Chileans were going crazy, and as soon as I had a run going, hit a couple of good shots, the New York crowd was going crazy," Dent said. "It was deafening sometimes it was so loud. It was unbelievable. It was fun to pull out. It was great."

Dent had been in control when the rains came, up a set and serving for the second at 5-4.

"I was definitely in a bit of a rhythm before the rain delay came," he said. "I just got back out there and I was trying to stay calm. But inside I was so juiced up. Came out there trying to hit my second serve, Mach 5. I ended up hitting three doubles that game, giving it away."

He wasn't the only one who endured a difficult day. The rain delay caused many strange scenarios. Matches had to be moved off the Grandstand Court when the air blower to dry the court started leaking oil and could not be cleaned up.

Even odder was the Jonas Bjorkman-Karol Kucera match. The Swede had match point when the interruption came and he was forced to sit and think about the lone point for three hours during the delay.

After it resumed, the match lasted less than 30 seconds when Kucera's passing shot clipped the net and went wide.

"I've never been around a situation like that before," said Bjorkman, who won, 6-4, 4-6, 6-7 (3), 6-4, 6-4, in 4:37.

Sixth-seeded Jennifer Capriati was one of the lucky few to get her match in before the rains came, though she made it difficult for herself, defeating left-hander Emilie Loit of France, 6-2, 2-6, 6-2, in the third round.

Typically edgy, Capriati complained that the blimp over Arthur Ashe Stadium was too close and wanted it moved, not surprising from someone who once made an issue of Monica Seles' grunts.

Needless to say, the blimp stayed.

Meanwhile, the Ivan Ljubicic-Andy Roddick controversy was being treated like a weighty issue. The Croatian criticized Roddick after he lost to him Friday night and said, among other things, that players in the locker room didn't like Roddick.

Roddick called him to discuss their differences and issued a statement, saying they had cleared the air.

*

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

At a Glance

Highlights of Saturday's play at the $17.074-million U.S. Open tennis championships:

* ATTENDANCE: Day: 33,998 (record). Night: 23,117. Total: 57,115 (record).

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