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BY JOHN PYE
Associated Press


SYDNEY, Australia (AP) — Jennifer Capriati struggled with her serve and a sore leg Wednesday at the adidas International and lost her opening match to fellow American Alexandra Stevenson.
Capriati, seeded first and preparing to open defense of her first Grand Slam tournament title next week at the Australian Open, was beaten 7-6 (5), 3-6, 6-4.

The 20-year-old Stevenson advanced to the quarterfinals in Sydney despite wasting two match points. She reached the semifinals at Wimbledon as a qualifier in 1999.

Capriati, who had a first-round bye, left the court for 10 minutes after losing the first game of the third set to get treatment for an injured hip flexor in her right leg.

Then her game gave her trouble.

Trailing 5-4 in the decisive set but serving, Capriati led 40-0 before a series of errors brought the game to deuce.

Capriati's double fault gave Stevenson a match point, which she threw away with an errant groundstroke. But another double fault followed, then Capriati hit a backhand wide to end it.

The defending Australian and French Open champion said she'd injured her left hip flexor last week in Hong Kong and this time the injury was on the right side.

"I don't think it really made too much difference - now it hurts, but on the court it was fine."

Capriati said Stevenson played better than she'd ever seen her play.

"I don't know what I can say about my game though - I didn't play aggressive enough, I didn't play my game and I was letting her dictate a lot," she said.

But the loss hasn't diminished her confidence going into the Australian Open.

"I think I just take (the loss) as a learning experience," the 25-year-old Capriati said. "I didn't play that bad and I've got to give a lot of credit to Alexandra, who played really well, but I'm not going to let it get my confidence down."

Stevenson had wasted another match point while serving at 5-3, wiping it out with a double fault, then putting a forehand wide.

But she decided to keep faith in her power game and it paid dividends.

She rated the win as her best and dedicated it to friends who died in the Sept. 11 terror attacks on the United States.

"She is No. 2. I have never beaten anyone in the top five, so it is my best win to date.

"I decided that this was my chance and I was sick of losing," said Stevenson, who last year improved her ranking from No. 112 to No. 57. "I have done a lot of losing in the last two years, so I am going to make up for the losing and start winning again."

Third-seeded Kim Clijsters, who lost to Capriati in the 2001 French Open final, rallied from a set and service break down to beat Italy's Silvia Farina Elia 6-7 (4), 6-4, 6-1.

That set up a quarterfinal between Clijsters and fellow Belgian Justine Henin, who eliminated Conchita Martinez 6-0, 6-3.

With no Australians left in the tournament, the crowd strongly supported Clijsters - the girlfriend of men's No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt, an Australian. She raced through the third set in 28 minutes but finished with 60 unforced errors, which she blamed on a swirling wind and hot conditions.

In other women's matches, No. 7-seeded Sandrine Testud defeated Henrieta Nagyova 6-1, 6-2 in 59 minutes to move into a quarterfinal against defending champion Martina Hingis, while Meghann Shaughnessy had a 6-4, 6-1 win over Daniela Hantuchova.
 
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