- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 6, 2001

NEW YORK Crouching just inside the baseline, squinty eyes atop swaying, sculpted shoulders, Jennifer Capriati looked all the world like a predator ready to pounce that is, until a sunny grin swept across her face.
Given the circumstances, she had every reason to smile.
Pounding winners and chasing down balls with abandon, Capriati squelched Amelie Mauresmo 6-3, 6-4 in the U.S. Open quarterfinals last night at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
With the victory, the second-seeded Capriati advanced to her first Open semifinal since 1991. She next faces defending champion Venus Williams, who breezed past Kim Clijsters 6-3, 6-1 yesterday afternoon.
In the men's quarterfinals, defending champion Marat Safin topped Mariano Zabaleta 6-4, 6-4, 6-2, while the night match between No. 2 seed Andre Agassi and No. 10 seed Pete Sampras was late.
"I just knew everyone wanted to see the [Sampras-Agassi] match," Capriati said with a laugh after defeating Mauresmo in 1 hour, 3 minutes. "So I wanted to make it as fast as I could."
Her "little girl lost" days behind her, it's Capriati who now leaves her opponents appearing dazed and confused. Already the Australian and French Open champion, Capriati came within two matches of winning Wimbledon a showing she hopes to top at the Open, where she has yet to drop a set.
"I really want to do well here," said the 25-year-old Capriati, who could finish the Open ranked No. 1 in the world. "The last Grand Slam of the year, being on my home turf. I think I've already done well, but it would be great to win this one."
Against Mauresmo, Capriati was at her ball-blasting best, smacking hard, flat shots that left the No. 8 seed pushing feeble returns into the net and shaking her head in frustration. Capriati also showed off her newfound fitness a key to her current success at 3-3 in the first set, running down a surefire Mauresmo winner to earn a break.
For the match, the usually hard-hitting Mauresmo tallied nine winners and 25 unforced errors thanks largely to Capriati's ferocious pace.
"She missed [and made] a lot of mistakes," Capriati said. "I think it's just because I was just keeping the pressure on a lot. That was my intention."
Williams, the No. 3 seed, had never played against No. 5 seed Clijsters before yesterday's match and given the remarkably sloppy tennis the pair produced, that may have been a good thing. Together, they produced more double faults (14) than aces (8) and smacked a staggering 81 unforced errors.
The owner of the game's most lethal serve, Williams was broken in her first service game and put just 52 percent of her first serves into play. Nevertheless, she was barely pushed by Clijsters, who hit a paltry five winners and converted just one of nine break points.
"My unforced errors count was just really high," Williams said. "I wasn't stringing together the points the way I'd like to, exactly. But in general, a win is a win."
Frustrated by Williams' quick putaways and bamboozled by her looping second serve, Clijsters simply was unable to find a rhythm with her powerful groundstrokes. Time after time, the 18-year-old Belgian teed up on Williams' 70-75 mph second serve, only to blast the ball long and wide.
"It's hard for me to play my game against her," said Clijsters, a finalist at this year's French Open. "She hits the ball so deep, so it's very hard for you to hit it deep as well. As soon as you hit the ball a little bit short, she just finishes off the point."
Despite a reported cold, Williams has yet to drop a set in the tournament.
"I don't know what's going on," said Williams, who sniffled her way through her fourth-round victory over Sandrine Testud. "Whoever said I had a cold?"
Safin was far less coy against Zabeleta, smashing his racket and screaming in disgust on more than one occasion despite winning in straight sets. Safin won 76 percent of his first-serve points and 25 points at the net against the 23-year-old Argentine, making good on a prematch promise to play more aggressively.
After stumbling through an uneven, injury-riddled season, Safin appears to be finding both his game and confidence with each successive match.
"It's a great feeling," he said. "I'm happy that now I can play tennis, at least. Before it was a little bit [of a] disaster. I couldn't do nothing with the ball. I couldn't run. I wasn't enjoying [myself]."
Safin's troubles began in February, when a back injury forced the 21-year-old Russian to retire in the final of a hardcourt tournament in Dubai. Rather than rest, Safin continued to soldier on the better to collect on a $1,050,000 ATP bonus for playing in all nine of the tour's Tennis Masters Series events reaping a strained stomach muscle and a series of forgettable losses in return.
"Finish[ing] in the middle of December, I had 10 days to prepare myself for the new year," Safin said. "[When] I came to [the] Australian [Open], I was dead.
"Then, of course, I eventually get injured because you're not prepared, because your muscles are tired. And then it's over… . Can you believe it? It's August, it's almost September. The year is finished, and I'm trying to win some matches.
"That's bad," Safin added with a laugh.
Australia's Lleyton Hewitt, an Open semifinalist last year, earned a quarterfinal date against rising young American Andy Roddick by beating Germany's Tommy Haas 3-6, 7-6 (7-2), 6-4, 6-2 in the conclusion of a rain-delayed fourth-round match yesterday morning.
Hewitt took control during a second set tiebreak, jumping to a 5-0 lead. The match was postponed Tuesday with Haas leading 6-3, 2-2.
"In the end, maybe today favored me a little bit," Hewitt said. "But last night, I still felt that I was starting to get on to his serve. I felt like I was starting to work my way into the match. That rain delay wasn't going to help me that much."


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