Upsets, near-upsets, delays at wet French Open

Posted: Wednesday, May 29, 2002

PARIS -- On a day of drizzles that halted Jennifer Capriati's start to her title defense and postponed more than 30 other first-round matches, Aniko Kapros brought some sparkle to the French Open.

The teen-ager from Hungary via the Bahamas has a ranking of No. 179, a serve as soft as ice cream and circus-performer parents who've played Las Vegas. Now she owns a significant upset at a major tournament after beating a sick and tired Justine Henin, the No. 5 seed, 4-6, 6-1, 6-0 Tuesday.

Rain made matches stop-and-start-and-stop-again adventures for the second straight day at Roland Garros. Only 84 of 128 scheduled matches have been completed.

''It's like Wimbledon, this weather,'' said Kapros, a qualifier who played just her third career Grand Slam tournament match and gained her first such win.

''I was very lucky in the beginning of the match, because we went up on the court, did the five-minute warmup, then came down. That five minutes was good for me to get used to playing in a big stadium that's so colorful.''

Andre Agassi, Andy Roddick, Serena Williams and Marat Safin were among those whose matches were moved to Wednesday, while 10 matches were stopped in progress at about 9 p.m. (the courts don't have lights), including top-seeded Capriati's.

Her match against Marissa Irvin was moved from Center Court to much smaller Court 2, and was then suspended with Capriati serving at 4-2.

By then, the temperature was in the 40s and it was tough to see. Capriati had two double faults in the seventh game and complained to the chair umpire about flash bulbs popping in the stands. Irvin wasted five break points in that game, including one wiped out by a Capriati backhand that was called out by a linesman but called in by the chair umpire. Irvin, who put on a white jacket during changeovers, argued to no avail.

The No. 8-seeded man, Roger Federer, lost, as did No. 21 Juan Ignacio Chela, No. 27 Nicolas Escude, No. 28 Nicolas Lapentti and No. 32 Ivan Ljubicic. Women eliminated included No. 19 Anastasia Myskina, No. 22 Magdalena Maleeva, No. 24 Lisa Raymond, No. 25 Daja Bedanova and No. 30 Amanda Coetzer.

Even top players who won struggled, including three-time French Open champion Monica Seles, '01 finalist Kim Clijsters, and '96 champ Yevgeny Kafelnikov, who got by Tomas Behrend of Germany 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-7 (3), 6-1.

Other men's winners: No. 6 Tim Henman; No. 11 Juan Carlos Ferrero, a semifinalist the past two years; and No. 17 Carlos Moya, the '98 champion.

Henin, a semifinalist here and a finalist at Wimbledon in 2001, had her left thigh wrapped and complained of a fever, sore throat, fatigue, congestion and an earache. The downcast Belgian said she wished she hadn't played and later withdrew from doubles.

By contrast, words and laughter spilled of a wide smile as the 18-year-old Kapros discussed her biggest victory on tour (she won the 2000 Australian Open junior title).

How anonymous was Kapros before Tuesday? The WTA Tour's official player guide doesn't have a photograph of her.

But there certainly is athletic ability in her genes: Her mother, Aniko Kery, was a member of Hungary's bronze medal gymnastics team at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

Kapros was born in Hungary, lived in the Bahamas from ages 2 to 9, and accompanied her parents -- her father, Attila, is now her coach -- while they toured the world as acrobats.

''It's hard to explain,'' she said. ''They have this board in the middle of the stage, and my dad jumps, and my mom flips, and my dad catches her. That's mainly it.''

Her serve looks like something a weekend hacker might scoff at.

''I have to work on that,'' Kapros acknowledged. ''Maybe it even surprised her. It WAS a soft serve. You have to get used to it. If you get a soft serve, you have to hit it in. She didn't do that.''

Henin entered the French Open with high hopes. She has an all-court game and a silky backhand, and had been playing well on clay, winning a tuneup in Berlin and reaching the final in Rome this month.

But clay tends to be a great equalizer -- blunting power and lengthening points -- as No. 6 Seles and No. 4 Clijsters illustrated by digging themselves one-set deficits against players with rankings in the 70s.

Seles was awful at the start against Angeles Montolio, a Spaniard who lost her first match at 12 of 15 tournaments this year. Seles fell behind 5-0 in just 13 minutes, moving as though the red dirt underfoot were quicksand.

After a 1 1/2-hour rain delay at 3-3 of the second set, Seles came out with more spring to her step and changed the stringing on her rackets. The result: She won all nine games after the rain to end the match, 6-7 (4), 6-3, 6-0.

''The rain came at the right time, from my point of view,'' said Seles, at least a quarterfinalist in all nine previous trips to Roland Garros.

Clijsters, meanwhile, found herself in a jam against Tatiana Poutchek, a 5-foot-9 Belarussian who's never won more than one match at a major. Clijsters had 93 errors -- the same number Pete Sampras made in his loss Monday -- plus nine double faults.

But with an unusual reliance on drop shots, she pulled out the 3-6, 6-3, 8-6 victory, buoyed by scores of Belgian fans waving red-yellow-and-black flags and wearing jester's hats of those colors (countrywoman Henin played next on the same court) and by boyfriend and No. 1-seeded Lleyton Hewitt's yells of ''Let's go, Kim!''

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