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Nerves starting to fray at U.S. Open

Jennifer Capriati doesn't like the blimp, and Ivan Ljubicic doesn't like Andy Roddick.

By Wire services
Published August 31, 2003

NEW YORK - Jennifer Capriati's finickiness reached new heights Saturday: She wanted the blimp hanging over Arthur Ashe Stadium moved.

And that was simply one of her concerns during a tight match at the U.S. Open. She also was bothered by her racket strings, opponent Emilie Loit's style and the weather.

The blimp? Capriati thought it was closer to the court than normal and found the noise distracting. Still, the three-time major champion persevered, found a comfort zone and pounded out a 6-2, 2-6, 6-2 victory to reach the round of 16.

"When you're playing worse, everything sort of becomes louder than when you're playing well," the No. 6 seed said. "If something is bothering me, I try to stop it or focus a little harder."

She switched outfits because temperatures dipped into the 60s and switched rackets to try to account for swirling winds and heavy humidity. And then there were the problems with her serve: Capriati was broken three straight times in the second and third sets. But her powerful strokes took their toll on the light-hitting Loit, a Frenchwoman ranked 49th who likes to mix speeds during a point.

At least Capriati finished before the rain came.

She makes the Open quarterfinals for a third straight year if she can beat No.11 Elena Dementieva, who got past Amy Frazier 7-6 (7-1), 7-6 (7-3) in another of the handful of matches completed before the first downpour of the tournament made everyone put their rackets away.

Without hitting a ball, Andy Roddick was a topic of conversation at the National Tennis Center on Saturday, and not because it was his 21st birthday.

It was because Ivan Ljubicic lit into Roddick for his on-court behavior after losing to the rising star Friday night in a tight four-setter that ended shortly after midnight. As Ljubicic put it Saturday: "He is Andy Roddick, we are in the States, and if somebody says something bad about him, then it's a big boom. ...

"I'm sorry if he's expecting everybody's going to like him," Ljubicic added. "He thinks he's the best, the greatest, the most beautiful. But that's not the case."

Ljubicic had four set points to force a fifth against Roddick. It was the last set point, at 7-6 in the tiebreaker, that angered Ljubicic. Roddick hit a forehand down the line, and Ljubicic thought it landed wide of the line. Television replays showed the ball had landed on the line.

Ljubicic said Roddick yelled "Yes!" on the shot and said that may have influenced the linesman's call.

"That was the crucial point, obviously," Ljubicic said. "I am expecting some bad calls. But it hurts when it happens in the crucial moment like that."

According to Ljubicic, he was in his hotel room when he got a call from Roddick at 1:30 a.m. Roddick wanted to know why Ljubicic didn't speak to him privately instead of airing his views through the media.

Ljubicic said he told Roddick: "Andy, why do you care what others think about you?"

Roddick called the comments "sour grapes" Friday, but neither he nor coach Brad Gilbert would talk to reporters about the matter Saturday. Instead, Roddick issued a statement Saturday night through the ATP Tour: "I had a good conversation with Ivan, both last night and again today. I think we both had the chance to clear the air, and I know that last night's incident is behind us."

James Blake of Tampa came to Roddick's defense.

"Andy has proved himself over and over. He doesn't need to respond. He doesn't need to worry about this. What you saw out there was just his personality, Andy just being himself," said Blake, a Davis Cup teammate and pal of Roddick's.

Ljubicic didn't back down from what he said in his postmatch news conference 12 hours earlier, that Roddick does too much during matches to try to rile up the crowd or sway linesmen.

And the Croat insisted he's not the only one on tour who thinks that way.

"I mean, generally, I don't like him. I mean, not me, nobody in the locker room likes his acting on the court," Ljubicic said.

A few players said they weren't sure why Ljubicic said what he did.

"Andy seems fine with me," Hewitt said. "I've never had a problem with anything he's done on court."

Said French Open runner-up Martin Verkerk: "I don't know what that's about. I like Roddick."

Roddick and Blake both play third-round matches today, which is when Andre Agassi finishes his match against Yevgeny Kafelnikov. The winner of that match meets Taylor Dent, an unseeded American who won a five-set match for the first time in his career and earned his first trip to the fourth round of a major by knocking off No.15 Fernando Gonzalez 7-6 (11-9), 6-7 (7-3), 3-6, 7-6 (7-4), 6-4.

Agassi held a 6-3, 0-1 lead over Kafelnikov when their match was postponed because of the 3-hour, 3-minute rain delay.

That's how long Jonas Bjorkman had to wait to convert match point in his 6-4, 4-6, 6-7 (7-3), 6-4, 6-4 victory over Karol Kucera. As sprinkles started, Bjorkman slipped twice in the middle of a rally on match point, prompting the chair umpire to take the highly unusual step of stopping play during a point. When they returned to the court after the delay, it took about 30 seconds for Bjorkman to win.

Making it into the fourth round before play was halted was 2001 champion Lleyton Hewitt, who advanced when Radek Stepanek quit because of muscle spasms in his lower back while trailing 6-1, 3-0. Hewitt faces No.11 Paradorn Srichaphan, a 6-3, 6-4, 6-3 winner over Fernando Verdasco.

"I would have liked to have kept going," Hewitt said. "I felt like I was in a pretty good routine out there today. I was hitting the ball cleanly. It was a big step up from my first two matches."

[Last modified August 31, 2003, 01:47:13]


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