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Mase
Jul 28th, 2003, 12:24 AM
STANFORD, Calif. (AP) -- Kim Clijsters is starting to appreciate her strenuous conditioning routine.

"Running the sand hills pays off," she said.

The second-ranked Clijsters came back to beat Jennifer Capriati 4-6, 6-4, 6-2 Sunday in the final of the Bank of the West Classic for her tour-leading fifth singles title this year.

These two are getting used to playing long matches. All but one of their five meetings have gone the distance, including the 2001 French Open final, which ended with a record 12-10 third set won by Capriati.

"You don't really start thinking how long you're going to play," Clijsters said. "It's true, in the past we've had so many long matches and always long rallies. It's very satisfying to win matches like this, not only the mental part but physically."

She beat the seventh-ranked Capriati for only the second time in five chances, but both of her wins are this year.

Clijsters blew a 4-1 lead Sunday, letting Capriati win six straight games to take the first set and go ahead 1-0 in the second.

But then the Belgian got back into a groove on an 86-degree day at the hard-court tuneup for the U.S. Open. She hustled after tough balls and stayed in long rallies, even doing the splits twice to try to get to shots.

Clijsters took advantage of Capriati's mistakes -- and an ailing shoulder -- to jump to a 4-0 lead in the deciding set.

"I felt like even the first set I had so many chances there," said Clijsters, runner-up to countrywoman Justine Henin-Hardenne at the French Open. "A few times it was love-40 on her serve games and I took it too easy and wasn't aggressive enough. She's been coming to the net a little bit more and volleying well and that's something that surprised me."

Capriati double-faulted on match point in her first final in four months. She has not won a singles title in 1 1/2 years.

"Sometimes it's the easy ones that are just floaters that she gets back that are the hardest to put away," Capriati said. "I guess I get a feel for what it would feel like to play myself."

After the first set, trainer Lisa Austin iced and massaged Capriati's right shoulder, which appeared to be bothersome on her inconsistent serve.

The players wore matching red skirts, white caps and red-and-white shoes, and many of their rallies lasted 10 shots or more.

Capriati has been working to come to the net more, and she was effective when she did approach.

"I think I played real aggressively and came to the net quite a few times," Capriati said in describing her first-set comeback. "My motion was to go toward the net and that helped me put more oomph on my shots. And I moved her around the court."

Clijsters, whose 15 career titles include a win here in 2001, grew up admiring Capriati from afar. Clijsters was in the final of this event for the third straight year, having lost to Venus Williams in 2002.

Many fans held Belgian flags and cheered her every shot. The oversold crowd of 4,673 included some fans who watched with partially blocked views.

Capriati double-faulted six times to one for Clijsters, who hit 29 winners but also had 40 unforced errors. Clijsters converted seven of 19 break chances.

"I just got a little more tired than she did," Capriati said.

Clijsters also beat Capriati in the semifinals at the German Open in Berlin in May 6-4, 6-7 (2), 6-4.

For Capriati, 11 of her 12 losses this year have been in three sets. Clijsters is 7-4 in three-setters in 2003.

With the win, Clijsters is still expected to be just more than 200 points behind top-ranked Serena Williams, one of several star players to withdraw from the Bank of the West because of injuries.

Capriati said a doctor would examine her shoulder and that her status is uncertain for next week's San Diego tournament.

"I think it should be OK, it's just a little strain," she said. "It hurt on forehand side and on high balls."


Hope to see you at the Acura next week Jenny!