PARIS -- A raw wind rattled stadium flag poles and sent clouds of red clay swirling across center court Saturday at the French Open, where fans wore overcoats and frowns. In dreary tennis weather, Jennifer Capriati was glad to be done by noon.
With the methodical ease of a Grand Slam champion -- which she became in January -- Capriati moved into the fourth round by eliminating Mirjana Lucic 6-3, 6-1.
''She's a great player and is full of confidence now,'' Lucic said. ''I would say she's pretty much the favorite here. It's really all up to her.''
At the Australian Open four months ago, Capriati capped a comeback from tennis burnout and personal problems with an improbable run to the championship. Winning the French title would be less surprising but equally captivating, because Paris is where her roller-coaster Grand Slam career began.
Capriati could be headed for a quarterfinal showdown with Serena Williams, who moved on with a 6-1, 6-2 win over Zsofia Gubacsi.
Only seven seeded women reached the final 16. No. 8 Conchita Martinez, last year's runner-up, made her earliest exit from the French Open in 14 years, losing 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 to Cara Black. No. 10 Amanda Coetzer lost to Francesca Schiavone 7-5, 6-4.
Nine seeded men remain, but not Russian hothead Marat Safin, who stomped out of the tournament after losing 6-4, 6-4, 4-6, 0-6, 6-1 to Frenchman Fabrice Santoro.
Safin, seeded second but still seeking his first tournament title this year, won 11 consecutive games to take a 1-0 lead in the final set, then folded. He failed to show for his postmatch news conference and will be fined $10,000.
Rain forced two brief delays, and No. 3 Andre Agassi finished in misty twilight, beating Fernando Meligeni 6-3, 2-6, 6-1, 6-3.
Capriati, meanwhile, recalled her past trips to Roland Garros.
''I've had some great memories here,'' she said, ''and a few bad ones.''
Playing in her first major tournament at age 14, Capriati reached the French semifinals in 1990. She hasn't been back to the semis since at Roland Garros, where she won only three matches from 1994 to 2000.
But thanks to the breakthrough in Melbourne, the French Open seems less daunting now.
''It's not going to hold me back to think: Can I win a Grand Slam or not?'' she said. ''I did it.''
Upsets and injuries have depleted the other half of the women's draw, but the No. 4-seeded Capriati still faces a tough path to the final, including possible showdowns against Williams, seeded sixth, and No. 1 Martina Hingis in the semifinals.
Williams' win was so routine that she spent most of a postmatch news conference discussing her addiction to online shopping.
''I can't seem to stop,'' Williams said with a laugh. ''I'm afraid I'm already a shopaholic. Fortunately enough I'm no longer in denial.''
Hingis beat Rachel McQuillan 7-5, 6-1, and was repeatedly jeered by French fans still annoyed about the tantrum she threw while losing the 1999 final to Steffi Graf.
''Hey, that's the way they are,'' Hingis said. ''You have to accept it.''
The boos may be louder Sunday, when Hingis plays Frenchwoman Sandrine Testud.
Capriati next faces 16th-seeded American Meghann Shaughnessy, who advanced by beating Janette Husarova 7-5, 6-4.
Agassi's biggest problem was the conditions.
''It was getting pretty dark out there,'' Agassi said. ''It seemed like it was getting to where it was about everything but tennis.''
Blustery conditions didn't faze Capriati, who was simply too consistent with her formidable groundstrokes for Lucic. At 25, Capriati is in the best shape of her career, looking even slimmer and fitter than in Australia.
''My tennis has improved since then,'' she said. ''I feel stronger here physically.''
On one exchange with Lucic, Capriati ran down balls three steps behind the baseline, raced forward to scoop up a drop shot, retreated to hit a leaping overhead and won the point.
''It's the reward for good training,'' said her father and coach, Stefano Capriati. ''She's working harder now to get even better.''
Also in the family rooting section were Jennifer's younger brother and their mother, Denise, attending her first tournament since undergoing hip replacement surgery.
''I've really missed her a lot,'' Jennifer said. ''It's nice to look up and see her there. ... Playing great tennis is not the thing making me happy. It's an all-around thing.''
But great tennis helps, and this year that's what Capriati is playing.
Peninsula Clarion © 2015. All Rights Reserved. | Contact Us