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Capriati's Pleasure, Davenport's Pain and U.S. Open's Worry

Photo by Cynthia Lum By Andre Christopher

Saturday was a bittersweet day for women’s tennis… at least in the United States.

Jennifer Capriati, once the American tennis princess in waiting, won her first title since the 2002 Australian Open by capturing the Pilot Pen, the last women’s tune-up event before the U.S. Open. But Lindsay Davenport, Capriati’s opponent in the Pilot Pen final, retired from the match, trailing 6-2, 4-0, because of an inflamed nerve in her left foot, which has pestered her all summer.

So the U.S. Open will begin on Monday at the USTA National Tennis Center in Flushing, N.Y., without the Williams sisters, Venus and Serena, who have won the past four U.S. Open women’s singles titles, and with the top-seeded American woman, No. 3 Davenport, gimpy. It is hardly a surprise that before Davenport, the 1998 U.S. Open champion, could do her post-match press conference at the Pilot Pen, U.S. Open and USTA officials were asking her if she would be able to play her first-round match Monday.

”I got a call when I called the doctor at the U.S. Open,” said Davenport, who immediately arranged to receive treatment by the U.S. Open tournament doctor after the Pilot Pen final. “They’re a little nervous if I was going to play or not. …I’m sure they would be disappointed if I wasn’t able to play, on top of everyone else.”

In addition to Davenport and the Williamses, U.S. Open No. 5 seed Amelie Mauresmo also retired from her semifinal match against Capriati at the Pilot Pen in New Haven, Conn., Friday night. But at least that was merely an upset stomach.

”The last two matches, I’ve had retirements; people are going to think what did I do,” Capriati quipped on court, on the verge of making an awkward joke to the crowd as she accepted the Pilot Pen trophy. “Did I put something in the water?”

Capriati relished being in the winner’s spotlight, a spot she had not occupied in 19 months, though she had reached five finals in the interim. With Michelob Ultra as the event’s presenting sponsor, Capriati, bolstered her party girl reputation by orchestrating a swig of beer during the trophy presentation. “I’ve been wanting to do this all week,” she said as she popped open the can. The crowd, naturally, loved it.

But lest anyone forget, the only reason Capriati played the Pilot Pen, which also serves as the USTA Women’s Hard Court Championship, is a right pectoral strain kept her out of action the two weeks before, forcing her to miss the JPMorgan Chase Open in Los Angeles and the Rogers AT&T Cup in Toronto.

”If I had been able to play the other tournaments,” Capriati said, “I probably would have passed on playing this. But it worked out perfect. I really had no practice at all. You can’t go into the Open without playing a match for three weeks. It’s too tough. I’m just really happy that I was able to come and play injury-free – not only injury free, but also to play well and win.”

Capriati was clearly on top of her game during the 47 minutes she and Davenport played. With Davenport serving in the first set at 2-5, 15-love, Capriati hit a running – almost lunging – forehand that zoomed down the line for a clean winner. Even if she were healthy and agile, Davenport would not have had any play on the ball.

But by then, Davenport said, she knew she “was in trouble.” After the third game of the second set, she called for the trainer and took an injury timeout. In what turned out to be the match’s final game, she could hardly move. Her foot so affected her serve, she double faulted twice.

Davenport was extremely apologetic to the crowd for having to retire from the match. “I’m very, very sorry,” she said, “and I hope you guys still had a great week.” The crowd, at 7,147 the smallest for a New Haven final since 1998, the event’s first year at the Connecticut Tennis Center at Yale, accepted Davenport’s apology with a standing ovation that brought the four-time runner-up to tears. (Davenport won this tournament in 1997 when it was played in Atlanta.)

Said Capriati, “You don’t want to win like that, obviously. Lindsay was very gracious to me after (the match) and said that I still played great.”

There is the chance that Capriati and Davenport could have a rematch of Saturday’s final in two weeks at the U.S. Open. They are in opposite halves of the draw and have reasonable paths at least to the quarterfinals. “I’d be pretty happy if I was in the final,” Capriati said. “I don’t care who I would play. I would just be happy I was there.” The key, of course – particularly for Davenport – will be staying healthy. To her advantage, she will never have to play two consecutive days, assuming normal scheduling and no rain.

”That’s going to be my saving point,” Davenport said, “That’s what I’m banking on.”

Davenport and the USTA.
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