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Team WTAworld, Administrator, aka Nibbler
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AP Sports Writer

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) -- Jennifer Capriati produced the greatest comeback in a Grand Slam final to overcome Martina Hingis and defend her Australian Open title.

Capriati saved four match points before clinching a 4-6, 7-6 (7), 6-2 victory over Hingis in Saturday's championship decider at Melbourne Park, the scene last January of her personal comeback from a tumultuous past.

Saturday's win was her first defense of a major, and no woman has saved more match points and won a Grand Slam final.

The WTA, organizers of the women's tennis tour, said the previous record was set in 1898, when Blanche Bingley Hillyard saved three match points against Lena Rice before winning at Wimbledon.

``I'm not looking for a place in history,'' Capriati said. ``I think I have something already in there. I'm just looking for titles.''

Capriati has won three of the last five Grand Slam events. After her breakthrough 6-4, 6-3 championship win over Hingis at the last Australian Open, Capriati won the French Open and reached the semifinals at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.

``I had a lot to deal with out there. I had a lot on my shoulders -- being the defending champion and being No. 1,'' Capriati said. ``I don't know what's better. The first or to come back from match point and win this.''

Capriati was the first top-seeded woman to win a Grand Slam title since Hingis won her third consecutive Australian title in 1999. The Swiss has lost in the last three Australian Open finals.

''(Hingis) was pretty close to getting the revenge on me, same two sets, same scores,'' Capriati said. ``I don't know how I pulled it out. On those match points I was really aggressive.

``I just had to really go for it and it paid off.''

Capriati said she'd once lost after holding nine match points, so she knew a comeback wasn't impossible.

Both players struggled in the 95-degree heat, sitting in chairs in the shadows at both ends between points, taking refuge in the player's tunnel during bathroom breaks and saturating themselves with water and ice.

``This is the most unique victory, given everything that was going on out there,'' Capriati said. ``This will definitely stand out for sure.''

Capriati lost her cool in the second game of the second set and screamed at the chair umpire, demanding that a line judge be replaced after three bad calls.

``I really don't know what I was saying -- I was really frustrated at that point,'' Capriati said of her uncharacteristic outburst. But it gave her some spark.

``Even though I was coming from behind, I always thought I could come back. I never thought about being defeated out there,'' she said.

Hingis said she should never have let it go to a third.

``At a set and 4-0 up, you shouldn't give it away,'' the 21-year-old Swiss said. ``Today, Jennifer was just steady until the last point. That was the difference.''

Hingis said she was exhausted and didn't want to come back after a 10-minute break following the second set.

She got an early break in the third but was foot-faulted three times in the fifth, including a double fault at break point to give Capriati the decisive lead.

``I just couldn't move any more ... my head was all over the place,'' she said. ``But after I lost the second set, she had the momentum. I really didn't believe in it anyway, even if I was up 2-1. I knew I wouldn't make it.''

Of the foot faults, she said: ``I was so tired I couldn't jump off my right leg any more.''

Capriati had 34 errors in the first two sets but just five in the third set.

She came back from 1-5 to 4-5 in the first set, but then lost her serve.

In the second, she slipped to 0-4 before saving three match points -- at 3-5 and 5-6 -- to force a tiebreaker.

Capriati survived another match point at 6-7 in the tiebreaker and evened it at one set apiece when Hingis skewed a backhand wide.

After closing the 2-hour, 10-minute decider with a running crosscourt forehand, she dropped her racket, ran over to her father, Stefano, in the stands, blew kisses to the crowd and shook her head in apparent disbelief.

``I couldn't believe finally that I won,'' she said.

Hingis, disconsolate, slumped into a courtside chair with a towel over her face after the match.

``Jennifer was just too good for me,'' she said. ``I don't know whether to be happy or cry about it.''

Capriati, who earned $520,000 for the title, made it to the French Open semifinals in 1990 at age 14 and won the Olympic gold medal at Barcelona two years later. But at 17, she dropped off the tour for 2 1/2 years and her personal problems made headlines.

Her initial demise coincided with Hingis' rise to No. 1.

Hingis became the youngest women's Grand Slam event champion when she won the 1997 Australian Open at age 16. She also won Wimbledon and the U.S. Open that year and reached the final of the French. But her only other titles came in 1998 and '99 at Melbourne Park.

Despite that, she held the No. 1 ranking for a total of 209 weeks, including a 73-week continuous stretch that ended last October when she had ankle surgery.

In the men's doubles final, Mark Knowles of the Bahamas and Canadian Daniel Nestor took the title with a 7-6 (4), 6-3 win over French pair Michael Llodra and Fabrice Santoro.

Russia's Marat Safin, the 2000 U.S. Open champion, will play in the men's championship on his 22nd birthday Sunday, when he meets 16th-seeded Thomas Johansson of Sweden.
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