- The Washington Times - Friday, September 5, 2003

NEW YORK — He is the rainmaker, the tennis Turk, the man you absolutely, positively don’t want to see. When U.S. Open tournament referee Brian Earley makes his slump-shouldered shamble onto the Ashe Stadium court, bad news follows, usually in form of rain delays.

Yesterday Earley made a handful of cameos. Then again, so did the sun.

After three days of frustrating washouts, the skies above Flushing Meadows finally cleared — not fully, but enough to play some honest-to-goodness tennis. Early showers came and went, flooding the courts of the National Tennis Center with antsy players and postponed matches.

When the rallies finally stopped, Lindsay Davenport and Belgium’s Kim Clijsters advanced to a meeting in tonight’s ad hoc, prime-time women’s semifinals, with Davenport defeating Argentina’s Paola Suarez 6-4, 6-0 and Clijsters dismissing France’s Amelie Mauresmo 6-1, 6-4.

Jennifer Capriati faces Belgium’s Justine Henin-Hardenne in the other semifinal. Capriati defeated Italy’s Francesca Schiavone 6-1, 6-3. And Henin-Hardenne stopped Russia’s Anastasia Myskina 6-2, 6-3.

“Everyone’s been in the same predicament here of not really being able to hit too many balls for the last three or four days,” Davenport said. “I thought I handled it pretty well.”

On the men’s side, Argentina’s David Nalbandian stunned Wimbledon champ Roger Federer of Switzerland 3-6, 7-6 (1), 6-4, 6-3, and Todd Martin failed in his comeback bid against Spain’s Juan Carlos Ferrero, falling 2-6, 4-6, 6-3, 7-5, 3-6.

Also advancing to the quarterfinals were Morocco’s Younes El Aynaoui, the Netherlands’ Sjeng Schalken, Argentina’s Guillermo Coria and Australia’s Lleyton Hewitt, a former Open champ.

With dry weather predicted for the New York City area the next three days, the tournament is scheduled to finish Sunday.

“It’s frustrating to not play in three days,” said No.3 seed Ferrero, who faces No.6 Hewitt today. “But I think we will finally play.”

That was little consolation to Myskina and Schiavone, however, as the persistent rain forced both players to complete unfinished fourth-round matches during the day before returning to the court at night.

“If you’re a professional tennis player, you have to prepare for everything,” Myskina said. “If it’s raining, you can’t play. If they [say] you have to play two matches, you have to play.”

Myskina’s match against France’s Mary Pierce was first delayed Monday with Myskina leading 7-6 (2), 2-0. After confessing that she was “really, really tired” Wednesday afternoon, Myskina looked anything but by swamping Pierce 6-1 to beat out the day’s first rain delay.

“This was the weirdest situation that I’ve ever experienced in a Grand Slam tournament,” Pierce said. “It was really, really weird to wait four days and play 20 minutes to finish the match.”

Weirdness abounded. On the Grandstand court, water wasn’t just dripping down from above — it was somehow leaking up from underneath, defying reason and gravity while rendering the court unusable.

Over in Armstrong Stadium, Davenport braved a light sprinkle to get in a practice hit. Fans on hand gave her a round of applause.

A few minutes earlier, Nalbandian and Federer came out of the Ashe stadium tunnel to resume their rain-delayed match. They played a single point before the wetness returned.

“It’s beyond bizarre,” said television analyst John McEnroe. “It’s beyond that. It’s gotten comical.”

Perhaps no match epitomized the odd and soggy state of this year’s tournament better than Schiavone’s 6-7 (5), 7-5, 6-2 fourth round victory over Japan’s Ai Sugiyama. The two began play Monday, continued Tuesday and shared a warmup without exchanging a single rally Wednesday.

No.15 seed Sugiyama had a chance to close out the match Tuesday night, leading 5-3 in the second set and on serve. But Schiavone broke before a rain-delay set in, and when the match resumed yesterday, she broke again to win 7-5 and force a third set.

More strangeness followed: With Sugiyama leading 2-0, an errant ball struck chair umpire Lynn Welch in the face, knocking her glasses askew and opening a small cut on her nose.

“Is my eye bleeding?” Welch asked no one in particular.

After a short pause, play resumed. Sugiyama won the next game, and as she walked to her sideline chair, she flashed Welch a smile that said, “What next?”

With that, it began to rain — with any luck, for the last time.

“You never know what’s going to happen here,” Myskina said. “It’s like Wimbledon.”

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