Back to the future for Seles and Capriati

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The Independent Online

They began under leaden afternoon skies that twice sent them into long rain delays, and they played through the punishing humidity of a late-summer night.

They began under leaden afternoon skies that twice sent them into long rain delays, and they played through the punishing humidity of a late-summer night.

And when they were done, No. 3-seeded Magnus Norman was on his knees, barely surviving at the U.S. Open, winning a marathon from Max Mirnyi, 3-6, 4-6, 7-6 (5), 6-4, 7-6 (9).

From the time the first ball was struck to the final point in the fifth-set tiebreaker, Mirnyi and Norman spent 4 hours, 6 minutes on the court throwing haymakers at one another, and another four hours waiting for the weather to clear.

It was compelling tennis, perhaps the first match that reached that level in this year's final Grand Slam event.

"It was unbelievable. I have no words for it," said an exhausted Norman, who lost the first two sets. "I got through, that's the important thing. I'm just happy I won."

Earlier in the evening, Monica Seles and Jennifer Capriati faced off in a resumption of what many thought might have been one of the great rivalries in women's tennis if off-court problems had not interrupted their careers.

So much has happened to them since their magical semifinal at the Open in 1991. But for one night, at least, Seles took Capriati back in time, defeating her 6-3, 6-4.

Nine years ago, they were kids, Capriati 15 and Seles 17, slamming huge shots at each other, viewed as the future of American women's tennis. Seles captured a third-set tiebreaker that day and went on to win the championship, beating Martina Navratilova.

"I really don't think about that much anymore," Capriati said. "I think it's kind of annoying a little bit, to tell you the truth."

Seles recalls it more warmly.

"I think it's the first time in women's tennis you had such hard hitters," she said. "It changed the face of women's tennis."

On an unpleasant night that left them both drenched, there were few reminders of the tennis they once played at center court.

"She came out really strong," Capriati said, "just from the first ball. She was just hitting them full speed. She served really well. It was tough for me to break every time. That put a little more pressure on my serve.

"I think it was pretty close. We had a lot of close games there. It could have gone either way."

A year ago, they played in the round of 16 and after Capriati lost, she finished the day in tears, trying to bury her troubled past.

"I think she's found some peace," Seles said. "I think she's changed a lot in a year. It's great to see that. I'm probably the same. I'm pretty even through the hard times and through the good times."

Venus Williams extended her winning streak to 23 matches with a 6-2, 6-2 rubout of Magui Serna. It took the third-seeded Williams just 53 minutes to move into the quarterfinals, where she will meet No. 8 Nathalie Tauziat, who eliminated former champion Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario 6-3, 6-2. It was Tauziat's first victory over Sanchez-Vicario after 11 consecutive losses

Her victory over Serna was in sharp contrast to Williams' last win, when she was forced to a first-set tiebreaker by Meghann Shaughnessy.

"In the first couple of rounds, I didn't feel I was playing very well," Williams said. "I was happy actually to get a nice match. She actually came out and played very well. I feel very warmed up now. I feel more in a groove and more ready to compete."

On the men's side, sixth-seeded Marat Safin survived the longest day of tennis, beginning at 11 a.m. then sitting through the sudden disappearance of his game, as well as two long rain delays, before finally prevailing over Sebastien Grosjean 6-4, 7-6 (3), 1-6, 3-6, 7-6 (5).

Safin was in control of the match, up two sets, when he suddenly found himself in trouble.

"I was a little bit tired," he said. "I was thinking, 'One more set.' I didn't expect it to change that quickly because it was 6-1, 6-3 in half an hour or less. I don't know. I just lost my concentration. It was very fast."

Safin started the match dressed all in black and ended it some 6 1/2 hours later all in white, wearing borrowed pants and socks after the two rain delays, the first one 1 hour, 19 minutes, then after 28 minutes of play another delay of 1 hour, 40 minutes, this one in the midst of a fifth-set tiebreaker.

When play resumed, Safin completed his delayed victory, built on 25 aces and achieved despite 64 unforced errors.

"Finally, I made it," he said. "I am happy."

No. 12 Juan Carlos Ferrero also waited out the rain for his 7-5, 7-6 (6), 1-6, 7-6 (6) victory over Roger Federer.

"I think I had a little bit of luck in the tiebreak," he said. "It's no great days for the tennis when is rain."

Asked about Safin and the need to borrow wardrobe pieces, Ferrero smiled. "I think Marat, all his life, this type," he said. "I think Marat, a little bit of craziness."

Sunday's other winners included No. 14 Nicolas Kiefer, who supplied some of the emergency supplies to Safin, 7-5, 6-3, 6-4 over Sjeng Schalken; and Wayne Arthurs, who defeated Richard Fromberg 7-6 (3), 1-6, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3.