- The Washington Times - Friday, January 25, 2002

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Now Martina Hingis gets her chance to play catch up with Jennifer Capriati.

Several years ago, Hingis was on top when Capriati was just starting to get serious about coming back from her troubled teens.

Tomorrow (tonight EST), Capriati will defend her Australian Open championship when she faces Hingis in a rematch of last year's final.

"For the first time, going up against her, it's like I'm the one favored to win," Capriati said. "I know definitely how she feels, being in that position, because I was in that position last year. I know she wants it bad, but I want it bad, too."

Capriati rose to No. 1 with her first Grand Slam titles at the Australian and French Opens last year and by reaching the semifinals at the U.S. Open and Wimbledon.

Hingis is playing her sixth consecutive Australian Open final. But she has not won a Grand Slam title since winning in Melbourne in 1999.

"You always question it, if you're capable of winning another Grand Slam if you haven't done it for three years," Hingis said.

Hingis and Capriati advanced to the final by winning tough matches in the semifinals.

Capriati had a 7-5, 3-6, 6-1 victory over No. 4 Kim Clijsters. Hingis overcame Monica Seles, a four-time Australian winner and nine-time Grand Slam champion, by 4-6, 6-1, 6-4.

"It will be great to play [Capriati] in the finals," said Hingis, who let a 5-1 lead slip in the last set against Seles before clinching the win. "Now it's the other way around she has to defend the title, and I'm the rookie."

Capriati's Australian win last year capped a remarkable comeback for the former teen prodigy, who dropped off the tour with personal problems after reaching the 1990 French Open semifinals at age 14 and winning the Olympic gold medal in 1992.

Last year, she became the lowest-seeded player (12th) to win an Australian Open when she produced consecutive wins over Seles, 2000 Australian champion Lindsay Davenport and Hingis.

Hingis won the first of her three consecutive Australian titles in 1997, the year she also won at Wimbledon and at the U.S. Open and was a finalist at the French Open.

"I believe in it again now, and it's a great feeling," said Hingis, talking about her quest for a sixth Grand Slam crown.

Hingis admits she hasn't had the game to match it in recent times with power hitters like Venus and Serena Williams, Davenport and Capriati.

But that's changed. She used her enforced three-month layoff to reassess her game plan.

"Over the last few years the other girls caught up with me, and I just didn't have the game to raise it in the finals," she said. "Now I think I am moving forward again and playing better than ever.

"I was able to do it once, so there's no reason not to do it again," Hingis added.

To reach the final, Capriati had straight sets wins over Silvija Talaja and Meilen Tu before dropping a set to Eleni Daniilidou. She beat No. 20 Rita Grande and No. 7 Amelie Mauresmo before her semifinal victory against Clijsters.

Hingis, seeded fourth, lost only 11 games in her first five matches, which included a 6-1, 6-1 win over No. 15 Amanda Coetzer in the fourth round and a 6-2, 6-3 quarterfinal win over Adriana Serra Zanetti.

Capriati said she's reaching her peak. She thinks she's moving better, playing better and has more confidence.

"It's pretty tough to top last year," Capriati said, but "I think I'm playing my best tennis right now. It feels like I've graduated to the next level."

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