- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 23, 2002

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Defending champion Jennifer Capriati played her way out of trouble and advanced to the Australian Open semifinals with a 6-2, 6-2 victory today (last night EST) over Amelie Mauresmo.

Capriati next meets Kim Clijsters, a 6-2, 6-3 winner over Justine Henin. Capriati was extended to 12-10 in the final set before beating Clijsters for last year’s French Open title.

Marat Safin, the 2000 U.S. Open champion, advanced to the men’s semifinals when Wayne Ferreira retired from their match with an abdominal strain. Safin, seeded ninth, led 5-2 when Ferreira stopped.

The Russian, who eliminated 13-time Grand Slam tournament winner Pete Sampras in the fourth round, next meets the winner between No. 7 Tommy Haas and former No. 1 Marcelo Rios.

Safin declined to accept the favorite’s role now, saying, “I prefer to stay one of these guys who nobody expects to win.”

Capriati lost the first two points before breaking Mauresmo’s serve in the first game. Then, in two games in the first set and one in the second, she saved a total of six break points.

She had help from occasional wild play by Mauresmo, who squandered a 40-0 lead in the third game of the second set with three consecutive double faults. Mauresmo had 34 unforced errors to Capriati’s 20.

“I’m glad I could raise my game,” Capriati said. “This is where it all counts how you do in the Grand Slams.”

After a promising debut as a 14-year-old in 1990 and then a series of personal problems, Capriati finally won her first major tournament title at last year’s Australian Open. She followed that with the French Open title and reached the semifinals at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.

“It feels like I’ve graduated to the next level,” Capriati said. “I feel a lot better this year.”

Before Capriati’s victory, Clijsters referred to her loss to the American in last year’s French Open final, and said, “It would be nice to be able to play her again.”

Clijsters also pressured Henin into costly errors in her advance to the semifinals.

Henin broke for a 2-1 lead in the second set. But her Belgian compatriot and good friend immediately broke back thanks to four straight misses by Henin.

Clijsters, seeded fourth, broke again for 5-3 and served out the match as No. 6 Henin hit wildly in a desperate attempt for winners.

Clijsters and Henin have enjoyed a similar rise to the upper ranks of women’s tennis. Both won their first tournament titles in 1999, and both reached their first Grand Slam event semifinals at the 2001 French Open.

After Clijsters was runner-up at the French, Henin reached the finals at Wimbledon, losing to Venus Williams.

“It’s not easy,” Clijsters said of playing Henin. “I would love to see both of us doing well in Grand Slams.”

Henin had 30 unforced errors to 15 by Clijsters, who anticipated some of Henin’s best shots and hit back winners.

In the other half of the draw, an aching Venus Williams couldn’t limp her way to victory past Monica Seles yesterday.

Seles stopped Williams’ winning streaks at two Grand Slam tournaments and 24 matches, advancing to the semifinals with a 6-7 (4), 6-2, 6-3 victory.

“It was such a tough match, really weird circumstances for both of us,” said Seles, who had been 0-6 against Williams. “We were both fighting a lot of problems within ourselves.”

Williams had tendinitis in her left knee just before her second-round match, but hobbled through a 6-3, 6-4 victory over Kristina Brandi. With swelling in the knee under control, Williams began feeling a right hamstring strain while trailing Seles 3-4 in the first set.

Seles had a sore throat and fever going into the match.

“There were a lot of shots I didn’t run for,” Williams said, adding that it was difficult to move to her forehand side. “I was hoping I could just get through the match and then have a couple of days to recover.”

Seles is a crowd favorite in Australia, where she won the tournament in 1991-93 and again in 1996, after she had been off the tour for more than two years because she was stabbed by a spectator at a tournament in Germany.

Seles, now with an 18-match winning streak of her own, will play Martina Hingis in the semifinals. Hingis has a 12-4 record against her, but Seles has won their last two meetings, both in California last August.

“It’s never fun losing, but under the circumstances maybe it was the best thing for me,” Williams said. “Maybe I would have tried to play the next match, maybe I wouldn’t have. But I think more than anything, she had the game plan today and she deserved to win.”

Last year and this year, Williams came to Australia as the Wimbledon and U.S. Open champion. Last year, she lost to Hingis in the semifinals.

“I’ve never been successful here,” Williams said. “I’ve done my personal best most times, and especially today. I did what I could.”

Seles’ next opponent, Hingis, is going into the semifinals having lost only 14 games in five matches. She beat Adriana Serra Zanetti 6-2, 6-3 in the quarterfinals.

She has not won a Grand Slam event, however, since taking the third of her Australian Open titles in 1999.

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