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Quarterfinal Loss Takes Toll on Capriati : Australian Open: The 15-year-old talks about pressure of expectations after Sabatini beats her.

January 22, 1992|From Associated Press

MELBOURNE, Australia — Six straight unforced errors to start a second-set tiebreaker. Wildly mis-hit shots. Lapses in concentration.

Suddenly, Jennifer Capriati was transformed into a vulnerable 15-year-old who had lost the joy of the game.

After a 6-4, 7-6 (7-1) loss to Gabriela Sabatini, Capriati spoke of pressures and expectations with a trembling voice and eyes brimming with tears.

"I'm disappointed in myself," Capriati said Tuesday night after her Australian Open quarterfinal defeat. "I know that people were expecting a great match. I think there is some pressure, actually a lot of pressure from everyone, maybe because it has become much more serious now. I feel it a little more."

The delight Capriati took in playing pro tennis, win or lose, since her debut as a 14-year-old had been missing since she arrived for her first Australian Open. She won her first four matches easily, all in straight sets, but showed no outward pleasure in them.

Instead, she seemed grimly determined to move up from No. 6 in the rankings, to get past the semifinals she had reached at the U.S. Open, Wimbledon and the French Open, and finally win a Grand Slam title. She wanted it all so much and so quickly that any setback here inevitably would hurt.

Sabatini sympathized with Capriati's anxiety, recalling her own worries as a teen-ager and her thoughts about quitting tennis before she won the U.S. Open two years ago.

"I think everybody has to go through those moments," said Sabatini, who will play Mary Joe Fernandez in the semifinals. "It's something she has to work on, that's all. I had my doubts about playing tennis. I was not enjoying tennis. I just tried to keep working hard and be patient, and one day everything just started to open."

Capriati's 1991 U.S. Open loss to Monica Seles after serving for the match still galls the 15 year old, who considers it her biggest disappointment. This loss was a close second.

"I have to really work at it to try and keep up there and to keep playing well," Capriati said. "Of course, it's still fun, but it's just that I have to really concentrate now and settle down and really think about it."

Capriati did have high points in the match, reeling off 16 of 18 points during one streak in the first set for a 4-2 lead.

But the roll ended as suddenly as it began. Sabatini won the first of four straight games to take the set, volleying spectacularly and passing Capriati when she ventured to the net. In the last two games, Sabatini yielded only one point.

The streaks continued in the second set--Sabatini taking a 3-1 lead, Capriati coming back to go ahead, 4-3, after winning 13 of 14 points.

Both players offered an effective mix of baseline and net games, going for broke on volleys and overheads, jumping on each other's second serves.

Capriati was hard on herself, though, still annoyed by an easy overhead she mis-hit long at 0-15 when she led 6-5 in the second set. That would have put her within two points of winning the set. Instead, Sabatini seized the opportunity and won the game with a forehand pass.

Unfortunately, the artistry ended there. Capriati played the tiebreaker as if in a daze, quickly going from bad shot to bad shot with no plan, no pause to consider what she was doing.

"It just happened so fast that I didn't know what was happening," she said. "I didn't have time to think about it."

Capriati lost the first point on her serve when she knocked a backhand wide cross court, then mis-hit a forehand wide the other way. She lost the next four points on a variety of backhand miscues.

At 6-0 and match point, she finally hit a backhand winner, but by then it was too late. Sabatini reached up for a shallow lob from Capriati and returned a backhand overhead for match point.

"She made a lot of mistakes in the tiebreaker," Sabatini said. "I didn't do anything special. I was just serving or hitting a return, and she was just missing."

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