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Tennis becomes Olympic marathon

Aug. 15, 2008, 4:37 p.m. (ET)

BEIJING (AP) It was 1:15 a.m. at the Olympic Tennis Centre, and top-ranked Jelena Jankovic sprawled out across her changeover chair and closed her eyes to catch some rest.

That can be hard to do at an event that has become an Olympic marathon.

The mixture of rain, long matches and a heavy schedule has kept players - and hardy spectators - at the venue until the wee hours.

On Friday morning, a weary Jankovic settled into her courtside when rain started falling as she was about to begin warming up for a match. Fifteen minutes later, the tournament called it a night - or morning.

The Friday night session went even later, in part because all four center-court matches were three-setters.

A couple thousand fans stayed until 3:35 a.m. Saturday, their flag-waving chants drowning out the sound of crickets outside the stadium, as Yan Zi and Zheng Jie of China beat Svetlana Kuznetsova and Dinara Safina of Russia in the quarterfinals, 6-3, 5-7, 10-8.

It was the latest known finish at any sporting event in Olympic history, the International Tennis Federation said.

Rafael Nadal played until after midnight to beat Novak Djokovic in the semifinals of men's singles.

"You just try to take the best out of it," said Djokovic, who played a doubles match earlier in the week that lasted until after 1 a.m. "There have been some things here in this tennis tournament that have really not made me or other players comfortable. Every night I'm going to the bed at 3:30, four in the morning. The next day I have to play about five, six, seven. So this is a bit strange for me. I never experienced that."

Over on Court 1, Roger Federer waited until 10:45 p.m. Friday to play doubles, while Swedes Simon Aspelin and Thomas Johansson took nearly five hours to win a doubles match. Their 19-17 third set was the longest in men's history at the Olympics.

"It makes it obviously very intriguing for fans to watch that type of match," Federer said. "But it completely throws off the schedule.

"We're not used to practicing at two in the morning. But it happens, you know. We the players have to be ready for those things."

The tournament has been behind schedule since the first day, when 10 matches were suspended and 26 postponed because of rain. Because the eight-day event has six rounds in singles, players must play nearly every day, which means waiting out rain delays.

"That's why they almost have to keep us here," Federer said. "It's brutal because we're playing this tournament in one week."

Federer said the schedule should be extended to 10 days in the future, but that's unlikely because other tournaments are played immediately before and after the Olympic event.