Finally, the U.S. Open goes on after the rain

Friday, September 5th 2003, 12:00 am

By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ Martina Navratilova practically galloped down the hall as she followed her doubles partner out to the courts at the U.S. Open _ dry courts!

``How exciting,'' the 46-year-old Navratilova said with a giant grin. ``We get to play.''

Dozens of tennis players shared that sentiment Thursday, when action finally resumed with some regularity after the rain let up and four days of frustration from suspensions and postponements began to ease.

Anastasia Myskina and Francesca Schiavone got to play all right. Twice.

Both women won fourth-round matches that had started Monday and stretched over four days, then took the court again just a few hours later for the quarterfinals. Both lost.

Sixth-seeded Jennifer Capriati overpowered Schiavone 6-1, 6-3, while No. 2 Justine Henin-Hardenne eliminated Myskina 6-2, 6-3 to reach the semifinals.

``It's not like she played a long match _ it's almost like a warmup anyway,'' Capriati said of her opponent. ``I thought she would have a bit of an advantage. It just seems like everything happened so fast. It feels like a different tournament almost.''

World No. 1 Kim Clijsters moved a step closer to her first Grand Slam title, beating No. 5 Amelie Mauresmo 6-1, 6-4 to set up a semifinal against 1998 Open champion Lindsay Davenport, who defeated No. 24 Paola Suarez 6-4, 6-0.

Both women's semis will be played in a special session Friday night.

The Open hyped it in a different way, handing out fliers that read, ``Today's forecast: Non-stop tennis.''

That was not the case Thursday.

Top-ranked Andre Agassi and Andy Roddick both rested, but they were the only ones. It could become a major advantage for the two, because their opponents were playing into the night to determine the other six quarterfinalists.

2001 champion Lleyton Hewitt, No. 3 Juan Carlos Ferrero, No. 5 Guillermo Coria, No. 12 Sjeng Schalken, No. 13 David Nalbandian and No. 22 Younes El Aynaoui all advanced.

Nalbandian registered the biggest upset on paper, knocking off No. 2 Roger Federer, the reigning Wimbledon champion, 3-6, 7-6 (1), 6-4, 6-3. Nalbandian has won all five of their pro meetings.

Clijsters had a 3-0 lead in her quarterfinal when it was suspended by rain Wednesday.

``I just tried to rest as good as possible and try not to worry about the weather, because it was pretty frustrating,'' she said. ``The first few days it happened, the players were laughing. The more we saw the rain coming, we just got more depressed _ all of us.''

It didn't help matters that the Grandstand, one of three main show courts, was deemed unplayable Thursday because it couldn't be dried. The water level beneath the facility's lowest-lying court is so high that the surface feels soggy even when the water on top has been wiped away.

``We have to wait for the sun. If it sits in the sun for 12 hours, it could be playable again,'' said grounds crew supervisor Joe Sexton, who's been working from 7 a.m. to midnight each day this week dealing with the weather.

Schiavone and Ai Sugiyama stopped and started seven times before they were done. The official match time was 2 hours, 36 minutes, but it actually ended 66 1/2 hours after it started.

They were suspended at 6-6 in the first set Monday night, then resumed Tuesday, and Sugiyama served for the match at 5-3 in the second. She lost that game, and the match was halted. They were washed out entirely Wednesday, then were called out to play a little before 3 p.m. Thursday, four hours after they were scheduled to start.

Schiavone won three straight games to take the second set, but fell behind 2-0 in the third and play was stopped again _ this time the rain wasn't at fault.

Chair umpire Lynn Welch was hit in the side of the head on an errant throw by a ballboy. The blow caused her glasses to bounce into her nose, cutting her. Three minutes later, it started raining again and Welch spent the delay icing her injury and getting taped up in two spots.

``I was thinking, 'That's ironic. We just get back out here, and now there'll be a delay because I'm hit,''' said Welch, who oversaw the 2002 Open women's final.

When they came back out, Schiavone won six straight games for the win. She raised her arms, dropped to her knees and covered her face, trembling.

Myskina defeated Mary Pierce 7-6 (2), 6-1.

Nalbandian plays El Aynaoui, who eliminated No. 7 Carlos Moya 7-6 (4), 7-6 (7), 4-6, 5-4. Schalken beat No. 8 Rainer Schuettler 6-1, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4.

Hewitt's defeated No. 11 Paradorn Srichaphan 4-6, 6-2, 6-4, 6-2 in a match moved from the Grandstand to Court 11, where a scoreboard wasn't working. Hewitt next plays No. 3 Ferrero, who will make his debut in the U.S. Open quarterfinals after getting past Todd Martin 6-2, 6-4, 3-6, 5-7, 6-3.

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