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Russian faces Capriati as injury fells Pierce

Jan 5, 2002

Mary Pierce's comeback bid was thrown off track once again when she retired with a hamstring injury during last night's semi-final against Russia's Elena Dementieva, ending the hopes of a dream final against American Jennifer Capriati at the Hong Kong Ladies Challenge.

Two-time Grand Slam winner Pierce had been expected to take her place in today's final against Capriati, who earlier beat South Africa's Amanda Coetzer 6-2, 6-3. But the 26-year-old Frenchwoman, who looked in fine shape in her straight-sets defeat of Austria's Barbara Schett on Wednesday, threw in the towel after conceding the first set 6-1.

Pierce, who was making a comeback after a season ravaged by a series of injuries, had her left thigh heavily strapped going into the semi-final, severely restricting her movement as the world number 15 from Moscow took full advantage by racing to a first-set lead. Then the drama unfolded at the changeover. Pierce sat down and indicated to the chair umpire she could not continue, leaving a surprised look on Dementieva's face.

Pierce was still in high spirits at the post-match press conference despite her latest setback. "It just needs time to heal and I think it will be better. I'm not really looking at it as a setback. My hamstring needs a couple of days rest," said Pierce, whose ranking has plummeted to 130th in the world.

"I felt my hamstring getting tight against Barbara [Schett] a few days ago. After a while it gets tight. It felt tight during the last couple of days. I had this problem four or five years ago as well."

Dementieva, 20, was happy to reach the final but sad the match ended the way it did. "I didn't know she was carrying an injury before the match. But I knew she couldn't move. She didn't run. I was happy to play her. I have watched her play on TV for years. It's the second time Mary had to retire from a game against me," said Dementieva, who also won by default against the Frenchwoman in a tournament in Miami in 2000. Thailand's Tamarine Tanasugarn and Russia's Lina Krasnoroutskaya stepped in to play an exhibition match to fill in the time slot left after last night's truncated semi-final.

"It was tough for her to come back after so many months away. I think she was nervous. But it's good to be in the final against Jennifer," said the Russian.

Capriati probably had a strong feeling she would play Pierce in the final before the Frenchwoman's latest predicament. She said: "She [Pierce] was not out as long as I was. I know she is hungry to come back. I read that she really misses it and I expect her to play well even though she hasn't been playing a lot."

"It doesn't matter who I play in the final. Either one is going to be tough," said Capriati before hearing the outcome of the other semi-final. Capriati said she was pleased to have played well for a second straight night, saying she was "improving all the time".

"It's always tough against Amanda because she makes you run a lot and she hits a lot of the ball. You must have your rhythm and be consistent against her. That's the way it is against Amanda, but that's the way I like it because it gives me good preparation for tomorrow. I was pleased with the way I played today. Everything is falling into place," said the American, who on Thursday thrashed Indonesian rookie Angelique Widjaja 6-0, 6-1.

Capriati then sent out a warning to her final opponent. "Of course I am confident. Why wouldn't I be confident? I have been playing well during the last two matches."

Capriati came out all business-like as she banged winners from all angles and Coetzer knew she was in for a torrid time when she was broken in the second game of the first set as Capriati took a 2-0 lead. Capriati put away some powerful overhead smashes on her way to breaking Coetzer again in the sixth game and there was no stopping the American who took another break of service in the eighth game to win the first set 6-2.

Coetzer had Capriati in trouble in the opening game of the second set when she was broken and Coetzer held for a 2-0 lead. But that was as far as the 30-year-old South African could go as Capriati stepped up her game again with breaks of service in the sixth and eighth games for a 5-3 lead.

Capriati then reached her second Hong Kong final in two years when Coetzer's forehand sailed long for the 25-year-old Florida native to complete her victory. Capriati double-faulted five times during the 60-minute match but came out with four aces, while Coetzer had no double-faults but committed more unforced errors.

"I lost a bit of concentration. I felt a bit fatigued but I managed to put it all together," Capriati said of her early second-set lapse. "I suppose you relax a bit after the first set. You can only keep your concentration for so long. But I corrected myself and I served pretty well towards the end," she said.

Coetzer was impressed with Capriati's play. "She's so much stronger than last year. She gets away with hitting double-faults by making up for it later with her serve. I felt I played really well, especially early in that second set when I was able to move around well," said Coetzer.

Coetzer will team up with Hong Kong's Tong Ka-po in the doubles final where they face Russia' Elena Dementieva and Lina Krasnoroutskaya. The Russian pair reached the final when they defeated the Thai-Indonesian combination of Tamarine Tanasugarn and Angelique Widjaja 8-6 (pro set).
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