Capriati returns to Grand Slam semifinals

Posted: Tuesday, January 23, 2001

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Jennifer Capriati's latest win made her feel like a kid again.

With a 5-7, 6-4, 6-3 victory Tuesday over Monica Seles at the Australian Open, Capriati became a Grand Slam semifinalist for only the second time since 1991, when she was 15.

''It's one of the best matches I've played,'' said Capriati, now 24. ''It kind of reminded me of the old days.''

Defending champion Andre Agassi became the first men's semifinalist by beating Todd Martin 7-5, 6-3, 6-4. Agassi committed just 14 unforced errors to 36 for Martin, who upset No. 3 Pete Sampras in the fourth round.

Agassi, seeded sixth, will next play the winner of the match Tuesday night between No. 12 Pat Rafter and No. 14 Dominik Hrbaty.

''To be in the semis again feels great,'' Agassi said. ''I'm hitting the ball well.''

Capriati lost a dramatic first set and fell behind in the second, then rallied as Seles tired.

Seles, seeded fourth, fell to 37-2 at the Australian Open. She won the title in 1991-93 and 1996, and her only other loss was to Martina Hingis in the 1999 semifinals.

Capriati reached the Australian Open semifinals last year before losing to eventual champion Lindsay Davenport. Her next opponent will be the winner of the match Tuesday night between the No. 2 Davenport and No. 8 Anna Kournikova.

''I think I'll be watching that match,'' said Capriati, who is seeded 12th.

The quarterfinals will be completed Wednesday. The top-seeded Hingis will play No. 6 Serena Williams, and No. 3 Venus Williams will take on No. 10 Amanda Coetzer.

Missing from the final eight were the four top-seeded men -- only the third time that's happened in a Grand Slam tournament since the Open era began in 1968. No. 4 Magnus Norman was eliminated in the last fourth-round match by No. 16 Sebastien Grosjean 7-6 (7), 6-3, 0-6, 6-4. No. 1 Gustavo Kuerten and No. 2 Marat Safin also lost earlier.

In Wednesday's matches, Grosjean plays unseeded Carlos Moya, and No. 5 Yevgeny Kafelnikov faces No. 15 Arnaud Clement.

Capriati, who has endured many wrenching postmatch news conferences at Grand Slam tournaments, this time was beaming. Even the potentially touchy subject of her recent weight loss couldn't stop her from smiling, and she confirmed that her conditioning is much improved.

''It's a lot of hard work that has paid off,'' she said. ''I'm just thrilled.''

Capriati left the women's tour for several years in the mid-1990s because of drug and personal problems. Her father, Stefano, began coaching her again last year, and she said her improved results are a reflection of her contentment off the court.

''The tennis sort of follows that,'' she said. ''I'm just happy playing tennis and feel free and relaxed with it.''

Capriati had lost all five previous Grand Slam meetings against Seles. The rivalry dates to the 1990 French Open, when Capriati was 14.

''Now I'm older and a lot stronger and physically fit, so maybe I can get back those hard balls she hits better now,'' Capriati said.

She kept Seles on the move with deep groundstrokes to both corners, and in the second set the tactic began to take a toll. Seles tired despite the mild weather, and after she took a 4-2 lead in the second set, Capriati won eight consecutive games.

Seles finally closed out the first set after Capriati had saved seven set points, all in the tense final game. It lasted 22 points, went to deuce eight times and included two rallies of more than 20 shots.

Seles appeared on the verge of victory in the second set when Capriati double-faulted to fall behind 4-2, threw her racket in anger and drew a warning from the chair umpire.

''I just wanted to cut down on my errors and execute my shots better, and that's what I did,'' Capriati said.

She broke right back, evened the set at 4-4 with her third ace and then began to dominate the baseline rallies. When she closed out the 1-hour, 55-minute win, she grinned, blew kisses to the center-court crowd and said ''I love you'' to a TV camera -- a message for her mother and brother back home in Florida.

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