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Capriati displays more guts, gains more glory

The top seed battles the heat as well as Martina Hingis, and she beat them both to defend.

Compiled from Times wires
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 27, 2002


MELBOURNE, Australia -- Few people saw what might have been one of the key moments of Jennifer Capriati's comeback victory over Martina Hingis for the Australian Open title.

After Capriati rebounded from a 4-0 deficit in the second set, saving four match points in the process, the players went to the training room for a 10-minute break from the 95-degree heat, which caused the temperature on the court to reach 116.

"We both were lying there, just packed with ice. It would have been the perfect sight," Hingis said.

Capriati said she was too tired to talk or change clothes, but felt more confident of winning.

Hingis, meanwhile, was thinking: "No way I've got to go back out there again."

She did, but only won two more games. Capriati won 4-6, 7-6 (9-7), 6-2 Saturday for her second straight Australian Open title and third championship in the past five Grand Slam events.

Marat Safin, the 2000 U.S. Open champion, met No. 16 Thomas Johansson for the men's title today.

A year ago, the Australian Open was the site of Capriati's breakthrough in a comeback that was years in the making. On Saturday she completed a record comeback for a women's Grand Slam tournament final by saving four match points on her way to victory.

The record stood for more than 100 years. In 1889, Blanche Bingley Hillyard saved three match points and beat Lena Rice 4-6, 8-6, 6-4 at Wimbledon. The last time a woman saved one match point and won was at the 1962 French Open final, when Margaret Court beat Lesley Turner.

A year ago, Capriati beat Hingis 6-3, 6-4 for her first Grand Slam title. Hingis, who has appeared in the Australian final six straight years, has lost three straight finals. Her most recent Grand Slam title came here in 1999.

Hingis had one match point at 5-3 in the second set, two more at 6-5 and another at 7-6 in the tiebreaker. A backhand winner by Capriati and three forehands sent long by Hingis erased them.

The 25-year-old Capriati said her approach to each point was "just to really go for it, and it paid off."

Hingis kicked herself later for not doing the same thing.

"I was hoping she was going to make a mistake," she said. "Next time I probably should take charge of it and just try to do something myself, but mentally and physically I wasn't up to it."

Leading 2-1 in the third set, "I didn't really believe in it any more," Hingis said. "I knew I probably wouldn't last if I really needed to, so I just tried to walk through it."

She has lost her last four matches against Capriati, although she has a 5-4 edge dating to 1997.

"I had a lot on my shoulders, just being the defending champion, trying to keep No. 1 status and dealing with the conditions," said Capriati, who took over the top spot in the rankings this month after Lindsay Davenport was sidelined by knee surgery.

Before the break after the second set, the two players tried various ways to battle the heat.

"It was really hard to breathe," Capriati said. "The air was just so thick. ... I would have to go back into the shade, or sit down, or something. There were just really no easy points out there."

Capriati took refuge in an entry tunnel once, and between points in the tiebreaker, when the players had been on the court more than an hour, Hingis put an ice pack on her neck.

During a bathroom break in the second set, Capriati removed tape on her legs to protect the hip she hurt the week before the tournament. The hip was fine, and removing the tight tape helped her breathe and move, she said.

"I've done lots of training, hard training," Capriati added. "I know that there's always something left in reserve, and I was just going to make myself go to the max."

In the intense heat, she said, neither player could hide their feelings.

She cursed the umpire in the second set over a line call, saying later, "I was really frustrated at that point, and I really felt like that call was ridiculous."

Hingis was warned at the end of the second set for throwing her racket.

More unusual was Hingis being called for foot faults when she lost serve for 2-4 in the final set.

"I couldn't jump off my left leg any more, so I tried to kind of step over," she said.

"I'm disappointed," Hingis said, "but there's next week, next tournament, next Grand Slam."

Capriati's troubles as a teenager made international headlines in the years after she reached the French Open semifinals as a 14-year-old in 1990 and beat Steffi Graf for the Olympic gold medal in 1992. She was arrested for possession of marijuana.

She was asked Saturday about her place in history.

"I'm not looking for a place in history," Capriati said. "I think probably I have something already in there. I'm just looking for titles."

Minutes after the match, Capriati called her brother Steven, who watched on television in Arizona.

"I couldn't understand him, he was screaming so much," said Capriati, who sat in her courtside chair after the match, talking by cell phone as officials prepared the trophy presentation.

She said he was with his friends and, "he just said that I have more of something than he does."

Capriati's parents Stefano and Denise were in the stands.

After the final point, Capriati ran to the side of the court where they were sitting, touched hands with them and blew kisses before returning to her chair and getting on the phone. She performed the same ritual with her father after winning the title last year, though her mother was not in Melbourne for that victory.

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