NEW YORK - The game was barely nine points old when Taylor Dent began worming his way into the hearts of the sparse, but tenacious crowd surrounding Arthur Ashe Stadium last evening at the U.S. Open.
It was Dent's serve and his advantage, and he had just sent a burst of flame past No. 1 seed Andre Agassi only to hear the lineman call the ball out.
Dent argued, "Ace!" The umpire shook his head. Agassi positioned himself for the second serve.
Dent continued to argue, then turned and yelled toward John McEnroe in the television booth where the "Hawk-eye" camera had been exposing line calls during the entire tournament.
"How was that up there?" Dent yelled.
He never found out the answer, but on court, Agassi, 33, was finding the going rugged against the 22-year-old American. And had Dent not aggravated his right hamstring and retired at the end of the third set with the score, 6-7 (5), 6-4, 7-5 for Agassi, it is anyone's guess what the final result would have been.
"I thought Taylor was doing a lot of things really well and I was having to respond the same way," Agassi said. "He earned that first set, and you never wish for retirement. He's a great competitor and a great guy and to see him get injured is just downright disappointing. No one likes it. It's disappointing for everyone."
The entire day was disappointing for the fans and the players who waited for the rain to clear. Agassi's match was the only one played to completion by 10:30 last night, when the mist that had been swirling all day turned to a downpour.
At that point, Agassi was the first and only man through to the quarterfinals.
When he walked into the post-match interview, where he is the one who is supposed to be questioned, he spoke first.
"What's the score with [Jonas] Bjorkman and [Guillermo] Coria?" Agassi asked, wanting to know how his future opponents were doing.
No. 5 Coria was leading 6-2, 2-0, 40-40, when play was suspended. No. 3 Juan Carlos Ferrero was leading Todd Martin 6-2, 40-40, and No. 11 seed Paradorn Srichaphan and No. 6 Lleyton Hewitt were on serve at 4-3 with Hewitt about to serve.
Two women's fourth-round matches also were suspended. No. 7 Anastasia Myskina and Mary Pierce, who resumed their match from Monday night with Myskina leading 4-2, had advanced to the second set with Myskina still leading 7-6 (2), 2-0 when it was stopped. And No. 15 Ai Sugiyama was leading No. 29 Francesca Schiavone 7-6 (5), 5-4 when their match was halted.
Those two women's matches have high priority with officials. The top half of the women's quarterfinals are set. In the bottom half of the draw, No. 6 Jennifer Capriati, who will play the winner of the Sugiyama-Schiavone match, and No. 2 seed Justine Henin-Hardenne, who will play the winner of the Myskina-Pierce match, advanced Monday and are ready and resting for the next round.
At 10:50 last night, officials suspended all play until today.
Dent said he injured his right hamstring during practice this week, thought the problem was gone, but felt the hamstring tightening up during warm-ups and getting worse every time he and Agassi had to leave the court for a delay.
"I could look at it negatively, but I was giving the No. 1 player all he could handle tonight," Dent said. "I think that's very exciting. I can't wait to get my body in order and get back on court. I'm willing to do whatever it takes to be a champion."
Dent called for the trainer at the end of the fourth game in the second set and was treated after the fifth game. Despite the injury, which made serving very difficult, he played on until the end of the third set, when his coach indicated from the stands he wanted him to stop.
"This is one match," his coach, Brad Stine, told USA network. "We don't want to jeopardize a career."
Agassi and Dent were originally supposed to play the second match on Arthur Ashe Stadium, which should have meant their match would start by 1:30 or 2 p.m. at the latest. Instead, Agassi and Dent had to wait until after 6 p.m., as rain and mist halted play through the day.
And then, when they did get on, there were two stoppages for mist. One came with Agassi about to serve for the first set at 5-4 and lasted an hour. When he came back, his game seemed nearly as cold as the 60-degree temperatures that had tired fans shivering in the stands.
But it wasn't just the weather that worried Agassi. Dent worried him too. The younger man hit the ball hard and deep and kept Agassi off balance. He broke Agassi in that 10th game of the first set and then won the tiebreaker.
Agassi had asked the umpire to check the court with the tiebreaker score 3-5, but play continued until the set was complete. Before the two could start the second set, however, the players were sent off for another break.
When Dent finally called it quits, he was disappointed but still smiling.
"It was my best showing in a slam and I felt very calm and confident," Dent said. "The best returner in the world had a tough time returning my serves - until I aggravated my hamstring."
David Nalbandian (13) vs. Roger Federer (2)
Juan Carlos Ferrero (3) vs. Todd Martin, completion of susp. match
Xavier Malisse vs. Andy Roddick (4)
Paradorn Srichaphan (11) vs. Lleyton Hewitt (6), completion of susp. match
Kim Clijsters (1) vs. Amelie Mauresmo (5)
Lindsay Davenport (3) vs. Paola Suarez (24)