Jennifer Capriati, Australian Open 2002

By Suzi Petkovski, Tennis Week, February 2002:

Rarely does the sequel beat the original. Jennifer Capriati was mindful of that as she returned to the Australian Open, site of her fairy-tale first Slam win 12 months before.

“It’s pretty tough to top last year,” Capriati conceded. “I mean, that’s the best I’ve ever played.”

But Capriati had cause to reconsider after her courageous 4-6 7-6(7) 6-2 comeback victory over Martina Hingis in a dramatic 2002 Australian Open final played in brutal heat.

“I don’t know which one was better, winning last year or this year,” beamed the 25-year-old after an arduously successful first Grand Slam defense. “I don’t know what there is to come. But definitely, this is the most unique victory.” Jen, we’re, like, really stoked for you and stuff.

Capriati recovered from a 6-4 4-0 deficit and stood a point from 5-1. She stared down four match points in two separate games, as well as the tiebreak, in the second set. For the first half of the match, the American’s play had been inhibited; a contrast to the blazing winners of last year. But on those critical match points, Capriati was a lion. Not for 40 years has a woman overcome match points in a Grand Slam final; no one has ever survived four.

All this was achieved in horrific heat that turned the Australian Open final into the Australian Open furnace. Temperatures in the stands hit 90°F, but on court the mercury was a brain-frying 107°F.

“It was just really hard to breathe; the air was just so thick and so hot,”

said Capriati of the toughest on-court conditions she’d ever endured. A big call coming from a Floridian.

For all the 130 minutes of the final, the capacity 15,000 crowd wasn’t watching a sporting contest so much as wincing at a form of cruel and unusual punishment. In between long, searching points both players sought relief by taking the seats of line judges, slumping exhausted over the courtside slock, leaving the court several times, and in the case of Hingis, donning an ice vest. During the 10-minute break at the end of the 66-minute second set, both women were packed in ice in the locker room – “quite a sight,” Martina related.

As a Hingis backhand floated wide to give Capriati the tumultuous second set, the Swiss Miss hurled her racquet from baseline to coutside seat. She sensed she’d thrown away her last chance for victory. And so it proved. Hingis dreaded the thought of going back into the inferno. “I didn’t really believe in it anymore.” When they returned, the 21-year old was running on fumes. She’d been on court for a three-set doubles final victory the previous day, also in scorching heat, and fooled no one when she made the first break of the decider to go ahead 2-1.

“My head was all over the place,” recalled Martina. “I knew I probably wouldn’t last if I really needed to.”

Hingis’ physical collapse was as painful as it was inevitable. On her penultimate service game, the spring gone from her step, she foot-faulted to hand the break to Capriati. Finally, on the Hingis serve, Capriati clinched consecutive Aussie crowns with a forehand return winner on her first match point. Having won just four of the first 14 games, Capriati hammered out 13 of the next 17.

Physical strength and staying power, so impressive a feature of Capriati’s triumph in 2001, again proved decisive. This year, a new face joined Capriati’s travelling troupe: trainer Chantal Menard, a Milan-based, former world kickboxing champion. But even more impessive was Capriati’s mental steel. “The whole time, even though I was coming from behind, I thought I could still win this,” Jennifer revealed. “I never really thought of myself as being defeated out there.”

Indeed, Capriati was indomitable in the face of many mental battles: the strain of defending a Slam for the first time, the jolting loss to Alexandra Stevenson in her first match at Sydney, and she strained hip flexors that she carried into the tournament. She came back from a break down in the third set against Greek newcomer Eleni Daniilidou and staved off a set point against Rita Grande in the fourth round. Agasint the erratic Amelie Mauresmo in the quarters, Capriati was ruthless, winning 6-2 6-2, and in a semifinal of fierce, primal hitting against Kim Clijsters, she broke free 6-1 in the third.

But the most perilous test came in the final against Hingis. “I had a lot to deal with out thee,” Capriati reflected.

“Just being the defending champion, trying to keep the No.1 status, dealing with the conditions, and I didn’t feel like I was playing my best tennis in the beginning. So it means a lot to me that, as long as you just stay in there and try your hardest and fight, it can win you matches and that’s exactly what I did today.”

Monica Seles and Anke Huber, Australian Open 1996

By Claude England, Maryland Match Point

At first I thought it must have been the strong capuccino I had enjoyed after ou last dinner in Melbourne that was keeping me so wide awake, but as the minutes continued to tick by, I came to realize it as the sheer excitement of the past five days at the Australian Open that was still tingling through my body.
So many talented players, great matches, and the magnificent state-of-the-art Australian Open facility. Where to begin?

Mark Philippoussis opened up the center court action with a straight victory over Nicolas Kiefer, who would have, at that time, thought he would go on to upset Pete Sampras in straight sets, only to be thrashed in the following round by fellow Australian Mark Woodforde.
Next it was defending champion Andre Agassi who basically limped onto center court after having the misfortune of hurting a tendon in his knee during a fall on his apartment steps. Andre, wearing a pathetic bandage, somehow won this match against Argentine qualifier Gaston Etlis, who at one point was serving for the match, and at another time was within two points of perhaps the upset of the decade. It was a sad sight from both ends of the court. Etlis played brilliant tennis, showing no mercy for Andre’s inability to move around the court, hitting precision drop shots that the defending champion, instead of racing towards, could only stand and watch. But when it came to winning those final points, Etlis became even more creative in finding ways not to win, and Andre hobbled to a 6-3 in the fifth victory.
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Taylor Townsend

Sara Errani:

Sara Errani

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova:

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova

Lucie Safarova:

Lucie Safarova

Jurgen Melzer:

Jurgen Melzer

Kimiko Date:

Kimiko Date-Krumm

Taylor Townsend:

Taylor Townsend

Taylor Townsend

Flavia Pennetta:

Flavia Pennetta

Flavia Pennetta

Gael Monfils:

Gael Monfils

Gael Monfils

Gael Monfils

Elina Svitolina:

Elina Svitolina

Elina Svitolina

Martina Hingis:

Martina Hingis

Martina Hingis

Photo credit: Peg

More reports from Cincinnati:
On the way to the Western & Southern Open
The Western & Southern Open main draw party
Friday evening at Lindner Family Tennis Center
Seeking relief from the heat
Proximity
Interviews and Press Conferences
The Mixed Zone
Stars and Flowers
Players at practice

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova

At the Western and Southern Open, I saw lines for autograph signings stretching out from the Midwest Sports tent (where Berdych was stationed Monday morning) and the Western and Southern tent (where ticketed signings were conducted with Sharapova, Murray, Wozniacki, and others).

line for Berdych autographs

line for autographs

The crowds at the entrance to the players’ center were thick at the start of the week, but thinned out considerably by the second and third rounds. The marshals no longer needed to move the barriers (to clear a path to the entrance) each time a recognizable player approached.

Martina Hingis

Gilles Simon

Recognizability wasn’t always a criteria with the autograph hunters. Near the entrance, I overheard one child ask another, “Who is she?” as the rest of the crowd called out, “Sam! Sam!” During the first round of qualifying, I watched a gaggle of kids gather at the far gate of Court 7 after Teymuraz Gabashvili suddenly won his match (Jimmy Wang having retired in the third set after just one game, with a right leg problem). Some of the girls had been watching Jelena Jankovic practice over on Court 8, running over when their guardian gestured to them. When Gabashvili left the court through the center gate instead of the far gate, the kids chased after him:

children chasing after Gabashvili

After they obtained his signature, two teenagers walked past me, looking at the balls he’d signed for them. One said to the other, “So what’s his name?” “Oh, we’ll never know.” Then they caught sight of the scoreboard and tried to sound out “Gabashvili.”

Who knew that Adrian Mannarino was so popular?

autographs and selfies

The tournament prides itself on offering plenty of non-tennis diversions (the headline for one ad reads, “Not a tennis fanatic? Not a problem”). Among its many committees is a crew of horticulture volunteers. In tandem with LaMond Design, the official landscape company of the tournament, they planted thousands of flowers (mostly annuals) around the tennis center before the tournament started.

Flowers at the Western & Southern Open

Flowers at the Western & Southern Open

There were two plant sales that I know of at the end of the tournament. One was to the volunteers, and one was to the public (with proceeds going to the Mason High School boys’ tennis team). I returned to the center near the end of the sale to see what “everything must go!” looked like:

cincy tennis plant sale 006

at the end of the tournament

Here’s a last look at the flowers as they were, after the Wednesday night session:

at the end of the evening session

More reports from Cincinnati:
On the way to the Western & Southern Open
The Western & Southern Open main draw party
Friday evening at Lindner Family Tennis Center
Seeking relief from the heat
Proximity
Interviews and Press Conferences
The Mixed Zone

Marion Bartoli

In the players’ box, in the Royal Box, in the commentary box or on the courts, former champions were everywhere!

2-time Wimbledon champion Stefan Edberg, Roger Federer’s coach:

Stefan Edberg

3-time champion Boris Becker, now Novak Djokovic coach:

Boris Becker

Amélie Mauresmo, Andy Murray’s new coach and winner in 2006:

Wimbledon 2014

Sue Barker:

Sue Barker

John McEnroe and Tim Henman:

Wimbledon 2014

Ion Tiriac and Ilie Nastase:

Wimbledon 2014

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