By Nick Mulvenney
SYDNEY (Reuters) - A violent thunderstorm and persistent rain prevented any of the scheduled singles tennis matches from being completed on women's semi-final and men's quarter-finals day at the Sydney International on Thursday.
Simona Halep, the second seed for next week's Australian Open, was one of a string of top players whose hopes of getting a good workout before the year's opening grand slam were stymied by the weather.
The Romanian top seed was leading 5-4 in the opening set of her semi-final encounter with one of her predecessors as world number two, Svetlana Kuznetsova, when the rain stopped played for the second and final time for the day.
Costa Rican qualifier Monica Puig had even more reason to be frustrated by the weather as she had raced to a 4-0 15-0 lead in her final-four match against Swiss Belinda Bencic.
Weather permitting, both women's semi-finals and all four men's quarter-finals will be completed after a morning start on Friday, with the women's final and men's last four contests following in the evening.
Former Wimbledon semi-finalist Grigor Dimitrov got closest to a victory on Thursday, having come from a set down to lead his quarter-final against Alexandr Dolgopolov 4-6 6-3 4-2.
The match started in the stifling early afternoon heat, and Dimitrov shattered his racket on the court in frustration after shanking a return to lose the first set.
The storm stopped play before the second set could get under way, but Dimitrov quickly got the upper hand when the action resumed to even up the contest and race into the lead in the decider.
More showers are forecast for Friday but the chance of rain is predicted to decrease significantly in the late afternoon.
(Editing by Hugh Lawson)