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Control Power: Capriati Downs Loit To Advance To Open Fourth Round

Photo By Susan Mullane By Richard Pagliaro

Jennifer Capriati spaced out today. It was during her third-round match against Emilie Loit when the Fuji blimp hovering over Arthur Ashe Stadium got a little too close for Capriati’s comfort.

Bothered by the noise emanating from the blimp, the sixth-seeded American consulted the closest authority to an air traffic controller she could find — the chair umpire — to check on the blimp’s future flight plans.

"I just asked if the blimp was going to go around the whole time," Capriati said. "You know, if it was possible, it doesn’t hurt to ask. Maybe they won’t do it (move the blimp), but you don’t know."

Clearly Capriati can’t control the air space above Ashe Stadium (only former New York City Mayor David Dinkins wielded such power), but she’s been pretty commanding controlling the ground. Today, Capriati continued her methodical march to the U.S. Open fourth round with a 6-2, 2-6, 6-2 triumph over Loit.

Prior to the start of the match, Capriati characterized Loit’s assortments of spins and slices as "a funky game". In the first set, Capriati countered the off-speed offerings with a steady dose of deep drives that frequently turned the funk to junk.

In the second set, Loit found her form on the forehand and Capriati lost the range on her second serve. The Capriati service toss, which when it goes off can appear as controllable as a whiffle ball in a wind tunnel, seemed to float to her right even more than it usually does. Capriati won only two of 10 points on her second serve in the second set and tossed in three double faults.

Alternating a scoop, slice backhand with a firm forehand that danced off the surface of the court as if the felt was infused with the funk Capriati anticipated, the Frenchwoman effectively kept the two-time Open semifinalist off balance. The combination of Loit’s short slice backhand and her deep topspin forehand wreaked havoc with Capriati’s timing on occasion.
"She started playing a lot better," Capriati conceded. "Maybe I just lost patience a little bit, made a couple more errors. But she hit some great shots and she played a few good games there. The slice, (I) wasn’t used to playing against that so I had to adjust a little bit."

The combative Capriati seemed to take losing the second set about as well as if Loit had insulted Capriati’s braided hairstyle. Cracking crushing strokes with even more conviction, Capriati quickly put space between herself and Loit in closing out the match.
The victory vaults Capriati into a fourth-round match with 11th seeded Elena Dementieva, who survived her third-round test from American Amy Frazier with a 7-6(1), 7-6(3) victory today. Dementieva will satisfy Capriati’s craving for pace and the Russian’s shallow second serve will have Capriati salivating to spear returns.

"I think it’s definitely the weakes shot in her game," Capriati said of the Dementieva second serve. "I played her in Indian Wells. That’s what I think was very effective for me, just trying to pounce on her second serve. That’s when you just put pressure. That’s when more of the double faults come."

When she’s right, Capriati competes with the intensity of a player who has the love for a good fight. And it’s Capriati’s strength of spirit — even more than her crunching strokes or her determined dashes for shots seemingly out of her reach — that gives her a shot to still be standing when the semifinals roll around. There’s a trace of hostility in a close Capriati match, but if she can continue to produce the type of tennis she’s played the past two weeks in winning New Haven and reaching the fourth round of the Open, Capriati will continue to have a lot to smile about.
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