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Capriati Storms to Win

She beats Dementieva on day only two matches are finished because of rain. Henin-Hardenne in quarterfinals too.

September 02, 2003|Lisa Dillman | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — How much pizza can a Paradorn eat?

This isn't some sort of twisted test. It's all about the U.S. Open and what happens when it rains almost all day -- only two tennis matches, both women's fourth-rounders, were completed Monday -- and the only sport was jumping over massive puddles in the food court.

The search for trivia became important while players played chess, backgammon and video games during the long delays. Paradorn Srichaphan of Thailand revealed in the players' lounge that he had two slices of pizza, one at 11:30 a.m. and one at 2:30 p.m., attempting to fuel up for his fourth-round match with Lleyton Hewitt of Australia.

It was hard to go back to the tennis when there was almost no tennis.

Finally, Jennifer Capriati survived two rain delays, the first lasting about 4 1/2 hours, and became the first player to complete a match Monday, another victory of sorts. The sixth-seeded Capriati defeated No. 11 Elena Dementieva of Russia, 6-2, 7-5, in the fourth round and reached the Open quarterfinals for the third consecutive year.

Justine Henin-Hardenne of Belgium, seeded second, is in the quarterfinals here for the first time after beating Dinara Safina of Russia, 6-0, 6-3, in the only other match completed Monday.

The inclement day created havoc with the schedule. Andre Agassi's fourth-round match against Taylor Dent of Huntington Beach was postponed until today, as were Jonas Bjorkman of Sweden vs. Guillermo Coria of Argentina, No. 3 Juan Carlos Ferrero of Spain vs. Todd Martin and No. 11 Srichaphan vs. Hewitt. The weather forecast for today, however, was not promising.

If Agassi is to take his third U.S. Open title, he would need to win four matches in six days, similar to what Pete Sampras accomplished last year.

Capriati's actual time spent on the court was 1 hour 12 minutes. Total elapsed time, including the delays, was 6 hours 37 minutes and two outfits for Capriati. It began to drizzle during the final game, and Capriati, trying to break Dementieva's serve to finish it off, won it on her first match point. She looked relieved.

"As the night goes on, you just want to get it finished," Capriati said in a television interview afterward. "At the end it was a little slippery, but I didn't want to stop. ... It was starting to come again and I was like, 'No, stay away.' "

The match had taken on a different tone because Dementieva was a different player after the first delay. Capriati had built a 4-0 lead in 13 minutes when the rain first interrupted them. She held a 3-2 lead in the second before the second delay, which lasted less than an hour.

Dementieva played her best tennis after that interruption. At 4-4, she broke Capriati at love and served for the set but was broken at 15. Capriati won the final three games.

The draw has opened up for Capriati. In the quarterfinals, she will play either No. 15 Ai Sugiyama of Japan or Francesca Schiavone of Italy. Their match, and one more that officials had hoped to get in -- No. 7 Anastasia Myskina of Russia vs. Mary Pierce of France and No. 2 -- were suspended.

But the dreariness of the day turned into something of a late-night carnival. Henin-Hardenne appeared to convince referee Brian Earley to let her and Safina play, and immediately became a heroine for beleaguered fans who had waited most of the day without tennis.

While officials were deciding what to do, fans danced to music, some even pulling off a bit of a striptease. All this -- well, most of it -- was shown on the big screen in Arthur Ashe Stadium. Henin-Hardenne and Safina, sitting in their courtside seats, smiled at the scene.

"I said to [Earley], 'Just make a decision,' " Henin-Hardenne said. "It was late already. It was almost 10:30 when we started the match. But they knew the rain was going to stop. The crowd was great, so it was a fun experience."

Henin-Hardenne needed only 57 minutes to defeat Safina. At least there were fans watching. Fewer than a couple hundred were at Sugiyama-Schiavone, and some of them started moving over to the grandstand court for Pierce-Myskina.

Pierce-Myskina did not start until 11:10 p.m. About 30 fans watched them warm up -- and one of them was Sven Groeneveld, Pierce's coach.

They played for 24 minutes and Myskina led, 4-2, when it rained again. Sugiyama and Schiavone were headed to a first-set tiebreaker when they were forced to stop and play was finally called for the day.

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