- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 4, 2001

WIMBLEDON, England Serena Williams is officially Wimbledone.

In a women's quarterfinal that was as thoroughly entertaining as it was aesthetically abominable, the 19-year-old Williams collapsed against Jennifer Capriati yesterday, enabling the Grand Slam hopeful to rally from the precipice of defeat to a 6-7 (4), 7-5, 6-3 victory.

The two players combined for 108 unforced errors, 14 service breaks, four visits from the trainer and one vomit break in a match that was more Centre Court circus than turf technique.

The fifth-seeded Williams, who revealed afterward that she has been suffering from a stomach virus for several days, seemed to have the sloppy match well in hand 90 minutes into the proceedings. The 1999 U.S. Open champion was up a set and a break when Capriati began her charge serving at 3-5, 0-30 in the second set. Just two points from watching her Grand Slam hopes dissolve at the hands of Williams, the 25-year-old Capriati clawed back from the brink of elimination, aided by a slew of Williams miscues.

"I thought about the French Open final there, that I was two points from defeat there also," said Capriati, who pulled the same Houdini act against Kim Clijsters last month at Roland Garros. "I thought, 'Well, if I can do it there, I can do it now.' "

It certainly helps when your opponent is particularly charitable. Williams, who committed an unthinkable 75 unforced errors in the match (virtually a season's worth for Andre Agassi), sprayed consecutive forehands out of play to even the game at 30-30. Capriati followed with a rare forehand winner and then swiped the game on an errant Williams backhand. Serena still had the opportunity to serve for the match. But one spectacular return winner from Capriati and three more wild shots from Williams leveled the score at 5-5.

By the time Williams regained her composure and purged her nauseated stomach (during a bathroom break trailing 0-4 in the third), Capriati had won nine straight games and 37 of 47 points, thanks mostly to 32 Williams errors.

"Maybe she was kind of surprised I came back and won the second set," saidCapriati, who will face Belgium's Justine Henin in one of tomorrow's semifinals. "I think she just was kind of shocked there for a little bit, and I took advantage of it. I tried to get on top of her as much as I could."

Capriati got on top of her 5-0 in the final set and staved off a last-ditch rally to cement the victory and keep her Grand Slam bid on the boil.

Williams, meanwhile, slumped into the interview room and immediately tried to explain away her epic fade, bursting into tears at one point.

"I haven't really been able to eat since [Friday]," said Williams, who blamed her astounding tally of errors on the illness she claimed compelled her to force points. "I just knew when I went out there that I should go ahead and go for it because my energy level without food for four days is not going to be the best… . I mean, right now I have the chills. I don't feel well. I have a horrible headache. I'm not alive right now."

Williams, who pulled out of her afternoon doubles engagement with sister Venus, was certainly alive enough to cultivate her excuse for a fourth consecutive loss to Capriati, the tennis world's comeback story of the decade. After losing to Capriati at the Ericsson Open in March, Williams complained of an ailing knee. After her quarterfinal loss to Capriati at Roland Garros last month, she blamed an extended layoff. And yesterday, while Capriati was downplaying the right hip strain that required three in-match visits from WTA trainer Michelle Gebrian, Williams was swilling tubes of Pepto-Bismol and lamenting her puny body which to all the world looks like nearly 6 feet, 145 pounds of mind-boggling muscle.

"I thought she said she was an impostor in France, and this is the real her coming out," said Capriati, mocking the bold comments Williams made at her Monday news conference. "Every time I play her, I'm pretty much used to something going on there… . I don't know. Maybe she had a bad case of diarrhea or something… . It doesn't matter [whether she was overplaying her illness]. I think I know the truth inside. I think most people do."

Third-seeded Lindsay Davenport, who defeated Clijsters 6-1, 6-2 yesterday to advance to the other semifinal opposite defending champion Venus, was quick to provide her take on the Serena situation.

"It seems like Serena likes to do that to Jennifer," Davenport said. "I don't know if it's the losing or she has a mental thing with Jennifer… . You know, a lot of times when she's down, something happens with the trainer going on the court. It happened to me at the U.S. Open when I was beating her… . You get a lot of drama with Serena."

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