Williams defeats Jennifer Capriati 7-5, 7-6 (7-4) in the Nasdaq-100 Open final.
By KEITH NIEBUHR, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times, published March 31, 2002
KEY BISCAYNE -- Winning the Nasdaq-100 Open was as easy as 1-2-3 for Serena Williams.
Or rather, 3-2-1.
After disposing of No.3-ranked Martina Hingis 6-4, 6-0 in the quarterfinals and her sister, No.2-ranked Venus, 6-2, 6-2, in the semifinals, the 20-year-old Williams capped a spectacular week by defeating Saddlebrook's Jennifer Capriati, the world's No.1-ranked player, 7-5, 7-6 (7-4), in Saturday's error-plagued final.
She came from behind in the first set and saved seven set points in the second to earn $385,000. "I wanted to win this tournament," Williams said. "I had been in the final before and lost, and I really wanted to take it. And since I beat Venus, I felt like it was my duty to win."
The title, Williams' 13th, is her most significant since winning the 1999 U.S. Open as a 17-year-old. Williams, ranked No.9 in the world and the eighth seed here, did not lose a set in six matches. She improved to 12-1 this year.
Williams lost to her sister, a three-time champion, in the 1999 final. "She's still two up on me," Williams said.
After losing four of her first five matches to Capriati, Williams has won three in a row -- all on hardcourts -- to even the series 4-4. She beat Capriati 6-2, 4-6, 6-4 in the final of the State Farm Classic in Scottsdale, Ariz., in February.
Capriati was 2-0 against Williams in this event but could not take advantage of 59 Williams errors, mainly because she committed 38 of her own, allowed nine aces and won only 41 percent of her second serves.
"I didn't give it away," Capriati said. "She earned it."
Capriati lost to Venus Williams in last year's final after failing to convert eight match points. She squandered almost as many opportunities against Serena.
Ahead 5-3 in the second set, Capriati had two break points but could not finish off Williams. At 5-4, Capriati made three unforced errors and was broken. Two games later, she again served for the set but blew five set points.
Capriati led 3-1 in the tiebreaker then made five errors in the next seven points. On match point, she was long on a backhand, and Williams jumped in celebration. "I was really determined to try to close it out (in two sets)," Williams said. "It seemed like I couldn't move my feet for a while. Then it just came through for me in the end."
Capriati served for the first set ahead 5-4 but fell behind 0-30 after an unforced error and a double fault. She rallied to make it 30-30 then lost the next two points, which tied the set at 5. Williams held serve then broke Capriati in a love game to win the set.
"I feel like I was ahead and in control the whole match," Capriati said. "It's a little disappointing. If I would have won the first set and I could have held in the second, maybe it could have been me that won in two sets. It was really close."
Had the match gone to a third set, Capriati said she liked her odds.
"I think I would have been so pumped up," Capriati said.
Capriati needed three sets to defeat three of her five prefinal opponents and reached the championship by beating fifth-seeded Seles 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (7-4) in a grueling 2-hour, 8-minute semifinal that ended at about 12:15 a.m. Friday.
"It's been a tough battle all week; tough with the schedule," Capriati said. "I was giving it all I had. I'm not sure how much I had to give. I was still fighting hard, and I still felt pretty good out there."
Williams has won 23 of her previous 25 matches and has an eye on becoming the world's top-ranked player. On the strength of her performance here, she will move up two spots to No.7 when the WTA rankings are released this week.