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Since 1st March, 1999
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Justine, Ferrero sail on bizarre day
- US OPEN - Rain delays Agassi-Kafelnikov tie l Two matches moved after on-court oil-spill

New York: Justine Henin-Hardenne and Juan Carlos Ferrero handled one of the strangest days in US Open history like the champions they are, winning with character and poise despite the distractions.

A court-closing oil spill, unsettling déja vu, a bothersome blimp, and a four-hour rain delay combined to make a bizarre day that ended with world No. 1 Andre Agassi still waiting to finish his third-round match.

Showers halted Agassi’s match against Russia’s Yevgeny Kafelnikov in the second set, relenting only long enough to allow one more point to be played, then returned and delayed the finish to Sunday with Agassi leading 6-3, 0-1.

Then a motorised drying machine leaked oil across the grandstand court — it was closed and two matches were moved, including Henin-hardenne’s 6-1, 6-2 triumph over Japan’s Saori Obata.

“You have to deal with these situations at a Grand Slam,” Henin-Hardenne said. “It wasn’t a normal day for sure. It’s very difficult but things like this happen and you have to be prepared for adversity. It’s very important.”

The second-seeded French Open champion from Belgium won on the same Court 11 where she was ousted from the US Open the past two years, facing down her court of doom in 55 minutes after waiting ten hours to play the match.

Henin-Hardenne will reach her first US Open quarter final on Sunday if she beats Russia’s Dinara Safina, who beat Claudine Schaul of Luxembourg 6-4, 7-5.

Spain’s third-seeded Ferrero waited all day to spoil the 24th birthday of Argentina’s Juan Ignacio Chela, advancing 7-5, 7-5, 6-1 after “just playing cards all day and waiting for the rain to stop”.

Ferrero made the day’s best shot in the third set, racing away from the net to chase down a lob. He fired a back-to-the-net, between-the-legs winner past a stunned Chela, a shot identical to one Roddick put past Chela here a year ago.

Next in Ferrero’s path is American Todd Martin, who beat compatriot Robby Ginepri 6-7 (2-7), 7-6 (7-4), 6-4, 6-4 late in the tumultuous day.

“If you do things well on the court, it should translate to how you cope with things off the court,” Martin said. “It’s good preparation for when we go back out on the court. You have to be able to roll with the punches.”

Fifth seed Guillermo Coria of Argentina beat France’s Gregory Carraz 7-5, 6-1, 7-5 in a match that began with five games on the grandstand and ended on an outer court after a long delay in informing players of the switch because of the oil spill.

“I couldn't believe it. It was like a joke,” Coria said. “I was hungry. I wanted to eat. But I didn’t know if I could.”

Now Coria does not know if he can play in the fourth round on Sunday, saying a left inner thigh injury might force him to withdraw from his match against Sweden’s Jonas Bjorkman, who had the oddest day of all.

Bjorkman beat Karol Kucera 6-4, 4-6, 6-7 (3-7), 6-4, 6-4 after duelling the Slovakian for four hours and 37 minutes before rain arrived during match point.

After Bjorkman slipped on consecutive shots, umpire Carlos Ramos stopped the point in the middle of the rally, citing the safety risk to both players.

When they returned, Kucera hit a forehand off the net cord that landed wide and Bjorkman’s day was finally over.

“I wasn’t nervous at all when I got back on court,” Bjorkman said. “I was just focussed to finish it off.”

The rain delay, however, could not derail American Taylor Dent as he recorded the best performance of his Grand Slam career.

The American world No. 74 came back from two sets to one down to beat Chilean 15th seed Fernando Gonzalez ) 7-6 (11-9), 6-7 (3-7), 3-6, 7-6 (7-4), 6-4 — a victory which gave 22-year-old a fourth-round contest with the winner of the Agassi-Kafelnikov match.

“I’m excited, I don’t think it’s sunk in yet,” Dent said later. “I’ve lost to Andre twice at Grand Slams before, that guy is unbelievable.”

Blimp on horizon

A blimp flying over Arthur Ashe Stadium disturbed Jennifer Capriati, who asked the umpire to order the flying airship away from the area during her 6-2, 2-6, 6-2 victory over France’s Emilie Loit (as reported in Sunday’s Late City edition).

“It was loud,” Capriati said. “Usually it’s much farther up. It just seemed to be much closer. It doesn’t hurt to ask. There are a lot of distractions here. That’s why I did ask, to try and cut out some of the distractions.”

Australian sixth seed Lleyton Hewitt was left wanting more after leading 6-1, 3-0 when Czech Radek Stepanek retired with back pain, so he practised with the man who took his Wimbledon throne, Swiss second seed Roger Federer.

Hewitt next plays Thai 11th seed Paradorn Srichaphan, who beat Spanish lucky loser Fernando Verdasco 6-3, 6-4, 6-3.

France’s Mary Pierce beat Japan’s 55th-ranked Shinobu Asagoe 6-4, 6-1.

At 28, Pierce is making an unlikely bid for the third leg of a career Grand Slam, having won the 1995 Australian Open and 2000 French Open crowns. Pierce next faces seventh seed Russian Anastasia Myskina, who beat Maria Sanchez Lorenzo of Spain 2-6, 6-4, 6-3.

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