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Capriati wins a comedy of errors

Posted: Friday, May 31, 2002

PARIS -- Her serve a mess, her groundstrokes unhinged, Jennifer Capriati did what she's done as well as any tennis player the past 1 1/2 years -- find a way to win.

The defending champion overcame 16 break points and 39 unforced errors to beat even more error-prone Amy Frazier 6-4, 6-3 Thursday and reach the French Open's third round.

If Capriati didn't look particularly impressive, No. 4-seeded Andre Agassi didn't have to. What shaped up as a test against a clay-court specialist never materialized because David Sanchez quit after three sets with a foot blister.

On a day when No. 6 Tim Henman lost, and No. 2 Marat Safin and No. 11 Juan Carlos Ferrero were taken to five sets, the best theater involved two Americans with opposite career arcs.

James Blake -- whose ranking has gone from 212nd to 24th since December 2000 -- lost a rollicking match against No. 10 Sebastien Grosjean, at the same time that Vince Spadea -- best known for a 21-match losing streak that dropped him from the top 20 to No. 229 -- was winning a second straight five-setter.

Blake's 6-4, 3-6, 6-2, 7-5 defeat had everything, including, unfortunately, a halt in play during the third set while an usher administered CPR to a spectator.

The crowd jeered when line calls went against Grosjean, tried to boost him with yells of ''Allez, Seb!'' and even did the wave -- twice. The fans also were appreciative of Blake's go-for-broke style, gasping in unison when he tried to rip a rally-ender early in a sequence, something few players attempt on clay.

Of course, that's also part of why he lost to Grosjean, an Australian Open and French Open semifinalist in 2001.

''Growing up with the whole 'instant gratification' thing, I went for winners too much,'' acknowledged Blake, the 1999 NCAA runner-up while playing for Harvard. ''Instead of grinding out a point, I just tried to take that first opportunity.''

The 22-year-old seemed overwhelmed by the setting just once: When he walked to the wrong end of the court to start the fourth set.

This was his first French Open as a player, but Blake was here a decade ago, accompanying his mother and brother when they won a mixed doubles tournament and were awarded a trip to Roland Garros.

''I remember looking out, seeing how incredible the talent was on court,'' said Blake, who frequently slapped a hand against his racket to applaud impressive shots by Grosjean. ''Today I was thinking, 'Maybe there's some kid up there thinking the same thing.'''

For a lesson in perseverance, look no farther than Spadea, who dropped off the tour and resorted to minor league events two years ago.

''I was in Las Vegas playing a Challenger tournament in October 2000, and I looked at my ranking and I was 240th in the world,'' Spadea said, ''and I said, 'Whoa!'

''That was rock-bottom. I knew I was capable of playing better tennis.''

Against Adrian Voinea, Spadea worked and worked until he'd won 6-4, 4-6, 2-6, 7-6 (4), 8-6.

The top-seeded Capriati starred in her very own comedy of errors.

After she held serve in the match's opening game, the players combined for 11 consecutive service breaks. Overall, there were 14 breaks, 14 double faults, and who knows how many lets.

''Not everything is going to go perfect and your way, so I think you have to improvise a lot on the court,'' said Capriati, who's won three of the past five majors. ''You just have to mentally block things out and concentrate on what your doing.''

Henman, three times a Wimbledon semifinalist but never past the third round here, was eliminated by Xavier Malisse 6-2, 3-6, 7-6 (4), 6-3. Other seeded losers: No. 19 Thomas Enqvist, No. 23 Fabrice Santoro, and No. 24 Rainer Schuettler, whose opponent, Guillermo Coria, celebrated by ripping his shirt off before shaking hands.

Safin, who pulled out of the World Team Championship last week with a pinched nerve in his back, out-aced Olivier Rochus -- at 5-foot-5, 11 inches shorter than the 2000 U.S. Open champion -- 15-0 and rallied for a 4-6, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 victory, capping the match by diving to his left for the winning volley. He left the court with gray shirt, blue shorts and right arm lacquered with clay.

Two-time semifinalist Ferrero got past Nicolas Coutelot 6-2, 5-7, 1-6, 6-2, 6-0 despite twisting his ankle while practicing Wednesday.

No. 16 Barbara Schett, who upset Venus Williams in the first round last year, was eliminated by Chanda Rubin; 2000 champion Mary Pierce overpowered No. 32 Cristina Torrens Valero; and No. 7 Jelena Dokic beat Conchita Martinez.

Serena Williams, meanwhile, breezed into the third round by dispatching Dally Randriantefy 6-2, 6-3. Williams again wore a green-and-yellow outfit with knee-high socks but said: ''I've been thinking about retiring the dress until the final.''

How's that for confidence?



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