Norman survives thriller, Venus wins easily

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Storms came and went, day turned to night, and after more than eight hours of playing, waiting and playing again in brutal energy-sapping humidity, Magnus Norman barely escaped the biggest exodus of top seeded men in U.S. Open history.

Storms came and went, day turned to night, and after more than eight hours of playing, waiting and playing again in brutal energy-sapping humidity, Magnus Norman barely escaped the biggest exodus of top seeded men in U.S. Open history.

His red shirt soaked as if he'd been swimming in it, Norman dropped to his knees and pumped his fist over and over after the final point Sunday night in a 3-6, 4-6, 7-6 (5), 6-4, 7-6 (9) comeback against an inspired but drained and cramping Max Mirnyi.

It was the match of the tournament, 4 hours, 6 minutes on court stretched over a torturous, fatiguing day from early afternoon to nearly 10 p.m., with Mirnyi serving 25 aces to Norman's five and racing to the net 173 times to Norman's 18.

The fans who packed the grandstand court roared all the way, chanting "Let's go Max!" for the pale Belarussian Mirnyi as they urged him toward an upset. But in the end, Norman's tactics paid off as he ripped a final backhand crosscourt that Mirnyi lunged for but couldn't handle.

"It was unbelievable. I have no words for it," Norman said. "I got through, that's the important thing."

A little more than an hour later, rain came again and ended the night with five matches in progress.

The departure of No. 1 Andre Agassi and No. 2 Gustavo Kuerten had already marked the first time the top two seeded men had failed to reach the third round. If Norman had lost, it would have been the first time the top three had faded before the fourth round. No. 4 Pete Sampras is the only other seed left among the top five.

After waiting five hours for thunder, lightning and heavy downpours to subside, Venus Williams reached the quarterfinals with a 6-2, 6-2, 53-minute romp past Magui Serna after waiting.

The victory extended Williams' winning streak to 23 matches, the longest of the year on the WTA Tour.

"I've had three late days in a row now," Venus Williams said. "I was hoping to play doubles today, but now I have to play tomorrow. It's like I can never get away from this place."

Williams next will play No. 8 Nathalie Tauziat, who beat No. 9 Aranxta Sanchez-Vicario for the first time in 12 matches over 11 years, 6-3, 6-2.

No. 6 Monica Seles beat old rival Jennifer Capriati, seeded No. 15, 6-3, 6-4 in a match that was well played but had none of the drama of their first meeting at the U.S. Open in 1991, when Seles won their semifinal clash in a third-set tiebreaker. Seles also beat Capriati in straight sets a year ago.

The weather played havoc with the schedule, twice suspending close matches at pivotal moments and sending frustrated fans and players scurrying for shelter.

Between the deluges, fans saw some of the best young players in men's tennis show off their talents in third-round matches while Williams, Martina Hingis and other women waited to play for berths in the quarters.

No. 6 Marat Safin, a 20-year-old Russian in his first full year of Grand Slam play, served at up to 138 mph (222 kph) as he won the first two sets against France's Sebastien Grosjean, 6-4, 7-6 (3) in Arthur Ashe Stadium.

But Grosjean suddenly started playing with the baseline ferocity of Agassi, and Safin's game unraveled with unforced errors. Grosjean won the next two sets 6-1, 6-3.

The first cloudburst hit with Safin serving at 4-4, 30-15 in the fifth set, and the rain delay lasted an hour and a half. Safin used the time to shower and put on fresh socks, shorts and a shirt borrowed from other players. When the players returned, they put on a high-quality duel, and pushed the match to a tiebreaker.

Safin, who had already racked up 25 aces, took a 5-3 lead and served to move within a point of victory. But he floated a volley long as rain began to fall again, and the match was suspended once more, this time with Grosjean ready to serve while trailing 5-4.

"I don't like the situation when you stay in the locker room and start to think, 'Oh, my God, I'm down in the fifth set. Tiebreaker is 5-4. I don't know what to do with the ball,"' Safin said. "It's a lot of headache because you don't know. You start to think all the time."

They resumed an hour and 45 minutes later, Grosjean tying it at 5-5, then Safin going to match point at 6-5 with a minibreak on a strong forehand that Grosjean hit wide. Safin didn't wasted that chance, punching a forehand crosscourt that Grosjean hit wide.

Safin's 6-4, 7-6 (3), 1-6, 3-6, 7-6 (5) victory in the match, which took 3 hours, 9 minutes to play but stretched over 6 hours, 8 minutes with the rain delays - put him into the round of 16.

Meanwhile, 19-year-old Roger Federer of Switzerland and 20-year-old Juan Carlos Ferrero of Spain were engaged in their own frustrating confrontation.

When the rain stopped them the second time, the 12th-seeded Ferrero was three points from victory - or three points from a fifth set - as he led 7-5, 7-6 (6), 1-6, with the fourth-set tiebreaker knotted at 4-4 with Federer to serve.

Ferrero will meet Safin in the round of 16.

The only match to finish before the rains came was one between two former U.S. Open boys' singles champions, No. 14 Nicolas Kiefer of Germany and Sjeng Schalken of the Netherlands. Kiefer won 7-5, 6-3, 6-4 and will play Norman in the next round.

The day ended the way it began, with play postponed for the night because of another cloudburst with Todd Martin leading Cedric Pioline 7-6 (5), 6-3, 2-0; Hingis leading Sandrine Testud 6-2, 1-0; and Carlos Moya leading Alex Corretja 7-6 (4), 2-1.