Capriati leaves worries behind

Capriati's past is trouble, her future is a Grand Slam final

Posted: Thursday, January 25, 2001

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Forget the troubled past. For Jennifer Capriati it's all about the future, which now includes her first Grand Slam final.

Capriati notched one of the sweetest victories of her tumultuous career Thursday, upsetting defending champion Lindsay Davenport 6-3, 6-4 in the semifinals of the Australian Open.

The 12th-seeded Capriati's opponent in the final Saturday will be No. 1 Martina Hingis, who played almost flawless tennis to beat No. 3 Venus Williams 6-1, 6-1 in 53 minutes. The most lopsided loss of Williams' career ended her bid for a third consecutive Grand Slam title.

Capriati lost her four previous semifinals in major tournaments, with three of those defeats in 1990-91 when she was a teen prodigy. That was before her hiatus from tennis in the mid-1990s because of drug and personal problems.

''It's taken me a long time to get to the final of a Grand Slam,'' said Capriati, 24. ''It's something I really wanted.''

Capriati avenged her loss to Davenport in last year's semifinals, and she did it by hitting boldly from the baseline. Her blistering returns put the second-seeded Davenport on the defensive, and the defending champ quickly began to look discouraged, hanging her head and swatting at the court with her racket between points.

''Maybe Lindsay underestimated me in the beginning,'' said Capriati, who was relaxed and laughed often during her postmatch news conference. ''I've played a lot of good matches, but maybe not this good against a top player. I was real proud of myself for not letting the moment get to me and being able to focus and concentrate and play my game.''

When Davenport dumped a forehand into the net on the second match point, Capriati waved her fist, grinned broadly and clenched her cap as though in disbelief. Davenport then hugged her at the net.

''It's great for her,'' Davenport said. ''I'm not happy, but she's a very nice girl and obviously has been through a lot.''

Capriati had lost her past five matches against Davenport dating back to 1997, including three in Grand Slam tournaments. She's 0-5 against Hingis, who is bidding for her fourth Australian Open title.

With the semifinal win, Hingis avenged losses last year at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open to eventual champion Williams. Hingis committed only eight unforced errors to 38 for Williams.

''She was hitting a little bit wild today, that's for sure,'' Hingis said. ''She hits the ball hard when it goes in.''

Williams, who had won 19 consecutive Grand Slam matches, shrugged off the defeat with a smile.

''I just had an off day and she played her normal game, which is to be a great counterpuncher,'' Williams said. ''I didn't seem to do the right things.''

Hingis, who edged Serena Williams in the quarterfinals, swept the sisters in the same tournament for the first time.

The lone singles match Friday will be an all-French semifinal, with No. 15 Arnaud Clement facing close friend and doubles partner Sebastien Grosjean, seeded 16th. That assures the tournament of a Frenchman in the final for the first time since 1928.

Defending champion Andre Agassi, seeded sixth, was to meet No. 12 Patrick Rafter of Australia in the other semifinal Thursday night.

For Capriati, Saturday's match will be her biggest since at least 1992, when she won the Olympic gold medal in Barcelona. Her ranking has climbed to 14th from 23rd at the start of last year, and she attributes her improvement to conditioning work.

Her father, Stefano, began coaching her last year.

''Everything is thanks to her and not to anybody else,'' he said after her victory. ''She played well, but it's not her best. She can play better than that.''

On a sunny, hot and humid afternoon, Capriati jumped to a 3-0 lead, then held serve the rest of the way to take the first set. Davenport was unable to convert any of her six break-point chances in the set, and on four of the points she failed to get her return into play.

''I knew breaking her serve was the key,'' Capriati said. ''I got an early break; maybe she didn't expect it.''

A bizarre point gave Capriati a service break and a 3-2 lead in the second set. Davenport hit a forehand off the net post, and when the ball deflected high in the air to Capriati's side, she stepped forward and slammed a winner.

Capriati closed out the next game with back-to-back-aces, and Davenport's play became even sloppier down the stretch. She shanked a pair of returns as Capriati held for a 5-3 lead.

Davenport made unforced errors on 43 of the 78 points Capriati won.

''She played great,'' Davenport said. ''She was really fired up. I thought I was not playing all that well. Combine the two, and it wasn't all that close.''

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