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By PHIL BROWN
Associated Press Writer


MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) -- Defending champion Jennifer Capriati played her way out of trouble and advanced to the Australian Open semifinals with a 6-2, 6-2 victory Wednesday over Amelie Mauresmo.

Capriati next meets Kim Clijsters, a 6-2, 6-3 winner over Justine Henin. Capriati was extended to 12-10 in the final set before beating Clijsters for last year's French Open title.

Capriati lost the first two points before breaking Mauresmo's serve in the first game. Then, in two games in the first set and one in the second, she saved a total of six break points.

She had help from occasional wild play by Mauresmo, who squandered a 40-0 lead in the third game of the second set with three consecutive double faults. Mauresmo had 34 unforced errors to Capriati's 20.

``I'm glad I could raise my game,'' Capriati said. ``This is where it all counts -- how you do in the Grand Slams.''

After a promising debut as a 14-year-old in 1990 and then a series of personal problems, Capriati finally won her first major tournament title at last year's Australian Open. She followed that with the French Open title and reached the semifinals at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.

``It feels like I've graduated to the next level,'' Capriati said. ``I feel a lot better this year.''

Before Capriati's victory, Clijsters referred to her loss to the American in last year's French Open final, and said, ``It would be nice to be able to play her again.''

Clijsters also pressured Henin into costly errors in her advance to the semifinals.

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Henin broke for a 2-1 lead in the second set. But her Belgian compatriot and good friend immediately broke back thanks to four straight misses by Henin.

Clijsters, seeded fourth, broke again for 5-3 and served out the match as No. 6 Henin hit wildly in a desperate attempt for winners.

Clijsters and Henin have enjoyed a similar rise to the upper ranks of women's tennis. Both won their first tournament titles in 1999, and both reached their first Grand Slam event semifinals at the 2001 French Open.

After Clijsters was runner-up at the French, Henin reached the finals at Wimbledon, losing to Venus Williams.

``It's not easy,'' Clijsters said of playing Henin. ``I would love to see both of us doing well in Grand Slams.''

Henin had 30 unforced errors to 15 by Clijsters, who anticipated some of Henin's best shots and hit back winners.
 
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