Sports Spotlight: Australian Open - Sabatini humbles Capriati
Tuesday, JANUARY 21, 1992
Paul Alexander, Associated Press
MELBOURNE, Australia - Jennifer Capriati's hopes for a Grand Slam title ended today with a flurry of errors against an attacking Gabriela Sabatini in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open.
The third-seeded Sabatini, using the aggressive style that carried her to the U.S. Open title in 1990, beat the 15-year-old Floridian 6-4, 7-6 (7-1) as the No. 5 seed fell apart in the tiebreaker, losing the first six points on unforced errors.
Earlier, it was the good, the bad and the absent as Monica Seles, Mary Joe Fernandez and Arantxa Sanchez Vicario took contrasting paths to the semifinals.
Seles, the top seed and defending champion, outblasted No. 12 Anke Huber 7-5, 6-3 in an exchange of raw power seldom seen in women's tennis.
No. 7 Fernandez, meanwhile, survived an ugly match of mistakes to defeat American Amy Frazier, who blew a 5-2 lead in the second set and a 5-2 advantage in the tiebreaker in losing 6-4, 7-6 (8-6).
No. 4 Sanchez Vicario didn't even have to take the court. She advanced when No. 9 Manuela Maleeva-Fragniere withdrew with a toe injury sustained in a doubles match Monday.
Seles will face Sanchez Vicario and Sabatini opposes Fernandez in Thursday's semifinals.
Capriati appeared distraught after the match, her eyes brimming with tears.
"It just happened so fast. I didn't know what was happening," Capriati said of the string of mistakes in the tiebreaker. "I'm disappointed in myself. I know people were expecting me to play better."
Capriati, unlike a year ago when she shrugged off losses with a smile, appeared extremely tense and upset.
"I think there's a lot of pressure from everyone," she said. "Maybe because (tennis) is becoming more serious. Because I have a chance to become higher (in the rankings) from what I am now."
She said the match wasn't her biggest disappointment. But it ranks right behind her semifinal loss to Seles in the U.S. Open last year after holding match point.
Sabatini seemed surprised by the ease with which she won the tiebreaker.
"I think she made a lot of mistakes," she said. "I didn't do anything special. She had many chances in the match."
Sabatini said she could understand Capriati's feelings and that she had considered before her U.S. Open victory whether she should continue competing.
"I think everybody has to go through those moments," she said. "It was pretty difficult. I had my doubts about playing tennis. I wasn't enjoing it."
But Sabatini said she had rediscovered her love for the game when her work to improve began paying off.
"I'm having a lot of fun," she said. "I think I play smarter, attacking more."
Capriati, the youngest quarterfinalist ever at the Australian Open, had fought back from service breaks early in both sets, but finally fell to the Argentine star's combination of baseline shots and solid net game, which she largely abandoned after her title at the U.S. Open.
Sabatini has yet to lose a set in winning a warmup tournament in Sydney and five matches here.
Seles sustained a strained neck before the tournament and has struggled to find her form, particularly her first serve.
The serve remains a question mark -- she got only 56 percent of her first serves in against Huber -- but everything else was devastating.
"I think the match was a lot closer than 7-5, 6-3," Seles said. "I just had a little more luck. She was hitting very hard and not missing balls."
The 17-year-old German, who lost to Seles easily in last year's quarterfinals, demonstrated the ripping groundstrokes and composure under stress that epitomizes her go-for-broke style.
Down 4-1 to Seles in the first set, Huber easily could have folded as Seles appeared on the verge of a second service break at 15-40. But Huber fought off six breakpoints in a game with eight deuces.
She finally tied the score at 5 by holding serve after breaking Seles when the Florida-based Yugoslav double-faulted twice in one game.
But then Seles claimed the key points as her own. She held serve with four straight points after falling behind 0-30, then broke Huber on her third match point when she double-faulted for the second time in the game.
Huber bounced back to break Seles in the first game of the second set, but Seles won the next four games to take control. She still had to work hard, however, as Huber held game points in all but one game, including all five of Seles' serves.
Her last chance came as Seles served for the match. Huber pulled ahead at 30-40 when Seles hit a forehand that was called long. She questioned the decision, clamping her hand to her forehead.
She shrugged off the call to smack a service winner, and one deuce later, finished off the match with a spinning serve into Huber's body that she netted, and a clean forehand winner down the line.
Seles and Huber provided a sharp contrast to the earlier mistake-plagued match between Fernandez and Frazier.
The two combined for 108 errors, hitting forehands and backhands virtually everywhere but on court.
Fernandez lost her serve three straight times in the second set, taking an injury timeout to call for a trainer when she jammed a toe.
Frazier served for the set at 5-2 but lost the next four games on a flurry of mistakes. After taking a 5-2 lead in the tiebreaker, she lost it 8-6 on four errors, ending with a backhand into the net.