- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 4, 2002

WIMBLEDON, England On a day when Mother Nature did her best to turn the All England Club into a tributary of the Thames, it was Amelie Mauresmo who created the perfect storm.
The one-time can't-miss native of France shook up Wimbledon's women's singles bracket yesterday, crushing third-seeded Jennifer Capriati 6-3, 6-2 in a rain-mottled match to advance to her first Grand Slam semifinal in more than three years.
"At least on this surface, I think I've never played a better tennis match than the one I played today," said Mauresmo, who turns 22 tomorrow. "From the beginning until the end, I didn't let anything go today."
That the typically erratic Mauresmo could string together two sets of near-flawless tennis was a mild surprise. That she could do it against a player of Capriati's caliber in a match of this magnitude was nearly a shock. That she could manage such consistency in a halting match that was defined by repeated showers and numerous suspensions of play was nothing short of staggering.
"She's never been as consistent as she was today," said Capriati, who seemed stunned after being dispatched short of the semis in a Slam for the first time since the 2000 U.S. Open. "Usually, you know, if you can just stay in there with her, she can make a few unforced errors and kind of give you an opportunity. She's always been kind of streaky. But today there was none of that."
Tabbed as one of the game's budding superstars when she advanced to the finals of the 1999 Australian Open at 19, Mauresmo has spent the better part of the last three years sculpting a dubious reputation as one of the more fragile-minded women in the sport. Nobody ever doubted her physical tools a 5-foot-9 frame, gorgeous one-handed backhand, excellent mobility, 100-mph serve, soft hands and solid instincts at net. In fact, Martina Hingis once rather bluntly described her as "half-man." But she never quite seemed to have the stomach or savvy of a true champion.
"She's better than she's shown so far, but this might be her breakout tournament," nine-time Wimbledon singles champion Martina Navratilova said yesterday. "She hasn't lived up to her potential. I think last year's French Open, when she lost in the first round after coming in as a favorite practically, was a real setback for her."
Since that defeat, which Mauresmo admits marked the nadir of her career, she has a hired a new coach and adopted a new attitude. Off the court, she stepped out boldly and proclaimed herself a lesbian, memorializing the event by having a tattoo of an angel etched into her shoulder. And on the court, she swapped her anxious approach for a more carefree mentality.
"My mental was a little bit up and down," Mauresmo said. "I had some bad experiences. At the French Open last year, I was so nervous, paralyzed by fear. My chances slipped away, and I decided that was stupid. Now, I'm trying to let it go, not have any regret when I go out on the court."
She played with a marvelously fluid, fearless abandon yesterday, frustrating Capriati with a combination of deep forehand chips from the baseline, scalded backhand winners on the run and confidently angled volleys at net. And when the rain began to fall briskly with Capriati serving at 2-3 in the first set, Mauresmo ignored the elements. Capriati, on the other hand, lost her focus, staring intently at the umpire at 15-40, obviously waiting for him to call the match. He did not, Capriati double-faulted to give Mauresmo the break that earned her the set, and the upset was on.
Seconds later, the match was suspended, and Capriati stalked off in a huff. Five times their match was interrupted by rain. Each time, Capriati became more agitated, a tweaked muscle in her left shoulder exacerbating the situation. But Mauresmo stayed calm. Mauresmo, it seemed, did have an angel on her shoulder, while Capriati simply had a chip on hers.
"It's very hard, but it's the same for everyone," said Capriati, who was far more gracious after the match than she was during it dropping f-bombs, glaring at the umpire, whining about both the weather and calls. "It didn't help to be playing an opponent today that was playing I think the best tennis she's played in a long, long time."
Mauresmo likely will have to play just as well today if she hopes to push No.2 Serena Williams in the semifinals. Serena overpowered 19-year-old Slovakian comer Daniela Hantuchova 6-3, 6-2 in yesterday's other women's quarterfinal. And only Mauresmo and sixth-seeded Justin Henin stand between a redux of the French Open's Serena vs. Venus all-Williams final.
"I think she has a pretty good chance [against Serena] if she plays like she did today," Capriati said. "I mean, she played unbelievable."
The showers washed out most of the action on the men's side of the draw yesterday, though sentimental favorite Tim Henman did take the first set of his quarterfinal matchup with unheralded Brazilian Andre Sa, and the 54-hour, fourth-round marathon between 1996 champion Richard Krajicek and Mark Philippoussis finally reached resolution.
After literally days of rain delays, Krajicek finally finished off the Aussie 6-4 in the fifth set at dusk, setting up a quarterfinal showdown with Xavier Malisse. All 12 men and women left in the singles brackets are scheduled to play today in hopes that the championships can get back on its traditional weekend track.


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