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An electrifying finish in Italy
Capriati comes up short vs. Mauresmo
By Bud Collins, Globe Staff | May 17, 2004
ROME -- She was sprinting desperately to the right, beyond the sideline, stretching and straining and screaming in the seemingly hopeless pursuit of a little yellow ball. The sound effects, she said, were for "an extra push." Otherwise, it was all over, and the emotionally exhausted 6,500 witnesses could be released from 2 1/2 hours of high tension.
Somehow, though, Jennifer Capriati overtook the ball, a sharply angled volley by Amelie Mauresmo, La Belle France's belle of tennis balls. She took a slashing swing, connected, and sent the ball zipping diagonally past Mauresmo at the net.
"Jenny! Jenny! Jenny!" chorused most of the onlookers at Il Foro Italico, where clouds were playing with the sun yesterday, shadowing the amber-toned soil.
"That was a very impressive shot," Mauresmo later said, shaking her head at the way she had been deprived of a match point.
But not the Italian Open championship. It would be Mauresmo's, nevertheless, because Capriati's super-shot-of-the-tournament was her last point in the closest finish of a title bout in the 74-year-old tournament's annals.
The margin was thinner than the salami at the concession stands -- two points. Two points in the third-set tiebreaker: 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (8-6), after Capriati's great stab brought about a 6-6 deadlock.
"I didn't lose, she won," said Capriati. "We gave everything we've got -- fighting for our lives."
It was an accurate summation because their gripping saga of a few thousand shots (109-106 in points for Mauresmo) felt like a dead heat. If they were dead at the conclusion (they said they were), it didn't show in the way they went at it until the closing second. Adrenaline flowed like Niagara Falls while they goaded the best from each other in extended, punishing double-digit rallies, frequently into the 20s. The longest was the last. Capriati's crosscourt backhand, sailing inches wide, was the 31st, the stroke of doom.
Both of these iron-willed, pneumatic-legged women had match points before it ended -- Capriati's in the 10th game of the third when she barely missed the baseline with a driving forehand. She had slithered out of so many traps in the third -- three break points to 2-1; three more to 5-4 -- that it appeared she would be rewarded on pushing Mauresmo to deuce from 40-15. With a big forehand, she had the ad, one swing from a title she's coveted since her father, a native of Brindisi, entered her as a 14-year-old in 1990. But no. Mauresmo stymied her by keeping the ball going until Capriati missed.
Capriati wasn't the only slitherer from black holes. Mauresmo was wearing a justified "it's about time" look, having lost three of the last four Italian finals, and coming within two points of defeating Kim Clijsters a year ago. But she had to scramble back from a 2-4 deficit in the third, hold to 5-5 through two deuces and the match point, as well as 1-3 and 3-4 minibreaks in the nine-minute overtime.
Capriati netted a forehand, giving Mauresmo the 7-6 edge and the serve. They punched and counterpunched boldly as the ultimate point lengthened, and lengthened suspensefully. They intensely gave it their all with each stroke before Capriati misfired.
Three points earlier, Mauresmo, at 4-5, turned it her way with her largest serves of the afternoon. "I hadn't been serving well [50 percent], but I really focused then," she said. She crashed successive service winners at 102 and 100 miles per hour to 6-5 through Capriati, who had been returning extraordinarily.
They used every shot, every inch of the enclosure. At first, the effect was metronomic, tedious. But after a strictly backcourting opening set of Mauresmo's rolling topspin groundies and Capriati's flatter blasts, they brought volleying into the picture -- even Capriati. Since neither could tear herself apart from the other, the excitement built.
"It was hanging there, to go either way," said No. 3 Mauresmo, a match-point saver in beating No. 1 Justine Henin-Hardenne in the semis at Amelia Island, Fla., last month, before losing the final to Lindsay Davenport. She also rescued one from Corina Morariu while proceeding to the Australian final of 1999, her breakthrough occasion, losing to Martina Hingis. Argentine Alberto Mancini was the most recent to dodge one here in a final, in 1989, beating Andre Agassi.
Mauresmo, the lone woman to do so, thus prolonged her winning streak to nine matches. This was not the same Capriati she savaged, 6-2, 6-0, in the German Open semis eight days before. Capriati said, "I wanted to prove to myself and Amelie -- not again."
Cracking her servitude to Serena Williams in the semis, an eight-match losing streak, pleased No. 9 Capriati, who said, "The real Jennifer is ready, and will show up at the French Open next week. A loss like this doesn't hurt -- yet, anyway -- and at least I finally got to the final after so many years of trying."
And she did hit the most electrifying shot of the fortnight, that gasping, grasping running forehand, prompting the "Jenny! Jenny! Jenny!" choir to give one parting hosanna. . . .
Meghann Shaughnessy of Scottsdale, Ariz., with family in the Boston area, joined Russian Nadia Petrova to upset world No. 1, Paola Suarez of Argentina and Spaniard Virginia Ruana Pascual, for the doubles title, 2-6, 6-3, 6-3.
© Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company.
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