Capriati weathers delays to advance

THE BALTIMORE SUN

NEW YORK - No. 6 seed Jennifer Capriati looked up at the lights surrounding Arthur Ashe Stadium and saw light rain. The lines were getting just a little slippery, but three rain delays had already stretched the match over 6 1/2 hours.

She wanted it over.

"Maybe I should always be that inspired," she said, after raising her game and intensity and bolting through the final game, breaking No. 11 Elena Dementieva for a 6-3, 7-5 victory to advance to the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open for the third straight year.

It was the only match from the day session at the U.S. Open to be competed.

Last night, No. 2 seed Justine Henin-Hardenne and Dinara Safina came on court to play their match at 10:15, got through warm-ups and were told by head referee Brian Earley that they couldn't start.

Both Henin-Hardenne and Safina protested. They took their seats to wait it out and while they waited found themselves entertained by the crowd that danced, sang and tangoed around the stands.

When they took the court again at 10:27, a massive cheer went up from the hardy group of fans who remained.

Despite three double faults in the first game, Henin-Hardenne held and went on to win, 6-0, 6-3.

It was a day filled with distractions. If anyone could have been put off by them it was Capriati, who only two days ago complained about noise from a blimp and the mere suggestion of weather moving in.

Yesterday, she was agitated by cell phones ringing, by three delays, and also was distracted, but in a good way, by having her friend Matthew Perry sitting in her box with her dad. Coincidentally, the players' box at matches is known as the "Friends Box."

Perry, who stars on the television comedy Friends, caused Capriati to laugh and smile on changeovers. To hide the smile she took to chewing on a towel. But before Capriati could grin and chew, she had to get on court.

"I had no idea when I got here at 10 a.m. it would take all day," said Capriati, who completed her match, originally scheduled to begin at 12:45 p.m., at 8:22.

Even at that, she was lucky.

No. 1 Andre Agassi, who had already had his third-round match delayed from Saturday to Sunday and was looking at a fourth-rounder with Taylor Dent yesterday, learned around 6 p.m. that his match was being postponed until today.

At least he could leave. No. 6 Lleyton Hewitt and No. 11 Paradorn Srichaphan and No. 3 Juan Carlos Ferrero and Todd Martin didn't learn until 9:40 that their matches were being postponed.

Capriati, whose match was the first one scheduled on Arthur Ashe Stadium, was the first to be inconvenienced. The match did not start until 1:47, but when it did, Capriati was on fire, she dashed off a 4-0, 40-30 run in just 13 minutes.

That's when the rain came back.

Four hours and 10 minutes later, after she had taken an hour's nap and passed the time, play resumed. For 36 minutes and it was during that period that the smile broke out.

She couldn't keep a straight face. Every time she looked at Perry and her dad, she had to reach for the towel and bite on it.

"We're just friends," Perry said earlier in the day. "We've been friends for a long time and my heart is with her to win the Open."

The match became a struggle after the second delay. Dementieva found her rhythm and her serve, while Capriati worried about when the next rain delay would come.

It came at 6-2, 3-2, 30-0.

Capriati returned to the locker room not knowing how long this break would be.

"It's very tough," she said of the day. "The third time, I didn't know if it would happen again. It's pretty annoying."

She laughed a little when she thought about past distractions in her life - including drugs and shoplifting - and the way it sounds when she complains of blimps, cell phones and weather during matches.

"At 27, I'm just starting to enjoy my life," Capriati said. "My life has gone in cycles. If it isn't one thing it's another. Sometimes, even I don't understand the moods. But I'm learning I'm just like everybody else. It's life. And I'm just happy for what I have. I shouldn't complain about anything at all. I've realized I've achieved a lot - in my tennis career, anyway - and that's one less worry."

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