Capriati back in semifinals

Posted: Wednesday, January 23, 2002

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Women's defending champion Jennifer Capriati had to play her best tennis. New men's favorite Marat Safin practically had a day off.

Both advanced to the Australian Open semifinals as Capriati beat Amelie Mauresmo 6-2, 6-2 Wednesday, and Wayne Ferreira retired from his match against Safin with an abdominal strain in the first set.

Capriati next meets Kim Clijsters, a 6-2, 6-3 winner over Justine Henin. Capriati was extended to 12-10 in the final set before beating Clijsters for last year's French Open title.

Safin, the 2000 U.S. Open champion, was awaiting the winner of a night match between seventh-seeded Tommy Haas and former No. 1 Marcelo Rios.

Capriati lost the first two points before breaking Mauresmo's serve in the first game. Then, in two games in the first set and one in the second, she saved a total of six break points.

''I played like I was on a mission,'' Capriati said, likening her effort to last year's when she won this tournament.

She had help from occasional wild play by Mauresmo, who squandered a 40-0 lead in the third game of the second set with three consecutive double faults. Mauresmo had 34 unforced errors to Capriati's 20.

''There was nothing for her to do except try to up her game,'' Capriati said. ''A few times I was put on the defense, but because I was playing well I was able to get out of those situations.''

After a promising debut as a 14-year-old in 1990 and then a series of personal problems, Capriati finally won her first major tournament title at last year's Australian Open. She followed that with the French Open title and reached the semifinals at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.

''It feels like I've graduated to the next level,'' Capriati said. ''I feel a lot better this year.''

Looking ahead to Clijsters, Capriati said, ''I've had maybe some tough matches, but I feel pretty fresh myself so hopefully I'll come out strong and play like I did today.''

After beating 13-time Grand Slam winner Pete Sampras in a tough fourth-round match, Safin needed only 28 minutes before Ferreira retired, losing 5-2 in the first set.

''That was a great match. I deserved to win. Today was a present,'' Safin said. ''I can save my energy for the semifinal.''

Safin, seeded ninth, declined the favorite's role, saying he had a very difficult next round.

''If you feel a lot of confidence, it's a little dangerous,'' he said.

Ferreira, who had struggled to five-set victories in his last two rounds, said he had pulled the muscle nine years ago and several times since, and had felt a twinge in the morning. He felt it pull again in the first game, and it gradually worsened.

''It's because I've played a lot of matches and done a lot of serving,'' he said.

Mauresmo, the 1999 runner-up here, had her sights set on reaching the No. 1 ranking.

''On the basis of this match, you can say I'm a long way away,'' she said. ''It's the kind of match that I really don't have the right to produce, given the high objectives I set at the beginning of the season.''

Before Capriati's victory, Clijsters referred to her loss to the American in last year's French Open final, and said, ''It would be nice to be able to play her again.''

Clijsters, seeded fourth, also pressured Belgian compatriot and good friend Henin into costly errors in her advance to the semifinals.

Clijsters and Henin, seeded sixth, have enjoyed a similar rise to the upper ranks of women's tennis. Both won their first tournament titles in 1999, and both reached their first Grand Slam event semifinals at the 2001 French Open.

After Clijsters was runner-up at the French, Henin reached the finals at Wimbledon, losing to Venus Williams.

''It's not easy,'' Clijsters said of playing Henin. ''I would love to see both of us doing well in Grand Slams.''

Henin had 30 unforced errors to 15 by Clijsters, who anticipated some of Henin's best shots and hit back winners.

In the other half of the draw, an aching Venus Williams couldn't limp her way to victory past Monica Seles on Tuesday.

Seles stopped Williams' winning streaks at two Grand Slam tournaments and 24 matches, advancing to the semifinals with a 6-7 (4), 6-2, 6-3 victory Tuesday.

''It was such a tough match, really weird circumstances for both of us,'' said Seles, who had been 0-6 against Williams. ''We were both fighting a lot of problems within ourselves.''

Williams had tendinitis in her left knee just before her second-round match, but hobbled through a 6-3, 6-4 victory over Kristina Brandi. With swelling in the knee under control Tuesday, Williams began feeling a right hamstring strain while trailing Seles 3-4 in the first set.

Seles had a sore throat and fever going into the match.

''There were a lot of shots I didn't run for,'' Williams said, adding that it was difficult to move to her forehand side. ''I was hoping I could just get through the match and then have a couple of days to recover.''

Seles is a crowd favorite in Australia, where she won the tournament in 1991-93 and again in 1996, after she had been off the tour for more than two years because she was stabbed by a spectator at a tournament in Germany.

Seles, now with an 18-match winning streak of her own, will play Martina Hingis in the semifinals. Hingis has a 12-4 record against her, but Seles has won their last two meetings.

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