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BY PHIL BROWN
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS


MELBOURNE, Australia -- Jennifer Capriati began defense of her Australian Open championship with precision shotmaking that made short work of Silvija Talaja.

Capriati won 6-4, 6-1 in slightly more than an hour Tuesday. She finished by blasting a forehand serve return that rocked Talaja back on her heels. Then Capraiti put her away with an easy forehand.

After she reached three Grand Slam event semifinals as a 14- and 15-year-old in 1990 and 1991, Capriati had to overcome a string of personal problems before hard work brought her a first Grand Slam victory here last year. She went on to win the French Open and reach the semifinals at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.

Capriati became No. 1 in the rankings after Lindsay Davenport recently injured her knee.

"I like the feeling and I want to try to keep it for a while, and set a new goal for myself and a new challenge and take myself to a new level in my career," Capriati said.

In the first set, she staved off a game point with some fine running, angling a backhand volley one way and then dashing to the other side for a forehand crosscourt winner. Two points later, she had a break for 5-2.

On set point, she followed a good serve with a short, sharply angled forehand on the sideline.

In the second set, she broke for 2-1 with a forehand to one sideline and a backhand to the other, and never lost another game.

In other women's matches, No. 6 Justine Henin, runner-up at Wimbledon last year and a semifinalist at the French Open, mixed her power with accurate lobs in beating Anna Kournikova 6-2, 7-5.

Kournikova, ranked as high as eighth last year, has slipped to No. 64 after missing 15 tournaments with a left foot stress fracture.

Russian compatriot Lina Krasnoroutskaya, the 1999 junior champion who gained a place in the seedings after Serena Williams pulled out with a turned ankle, sprained her own left ankle in a first-round match.

Krasnoroutskaya withdrew while trailing 3-6, 6-3, 2-0 against Conchita Martinez, the 1994 Wimbledon champion and runner-up in the 1998 Australian Open and 2000 French Open.
 
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