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Mauresmo Eases Her Way Into Semifinals

Wimbledon: New relaxed attitude helps her upset Capriati. Serena Williams also advances.

July 04, 2002|LISA DILLMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WIMBLEDON, England — When Amelie Mauresmo of France suffered a devastating first-round loss at the French Open last year, she crumbled under the weight of disappointment, practically dropping out of sight, submerging like a submarine.

It could have happened again last month after Mauresmo lost in three sets to Paola Suarez in the fourth round of the French Open. But Mauresmo, who turns 23 Friday, recalled last year and decided to curb the excess.

"I decided not to put my head under water like that," Mauresmo said. "When I lost this year, I let it go after three days."

For Mauresmo, Paris might as well be a world away. With minimal pressure and lowered expectations, she was traveling lighter, hitting freely and powerfully at Wimbledon. That and an artful game plan combined to help the ninth-seeded Mauresmo record her biggest Grand Slam tournament victory in more than three years as she defeated No. 3 Jennifer Capriati, 6-3, 6-2, in the quarterfinals Wednesday.

In today's semifinals, she will play No. 2 Serena Williams, who defeated No. 11 Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia by an identical score. Hantuchova, in her first Slam quarterfinal, did not play poorly. The score was reflective of Williams' focus and intensity despite the multiple rain delays. Even Williams was surprised she had 10 aces and no double faults.

"It's really easy for me. Nothing bothers me," said French Open champion Williams, who will be in her second Wimbledon semifinal. "I've become jaded."

Said Hantuchova, who was 0 for 4 on break points: "She really hit a big one when she needed it. I had a couple of break points, she always hit like 110 [mph serve], 115 first serve. It's really hard to do anything about it."

The weather problems hardly bothered the fiery Williams or the serene Mauresmo.

Capriati never seemed to find her form, mostly because of Mauresmo. It was the first time Capriati had failed to reach the semifinals of a Grand Slam event since the fourth round of the 2000 U.S. Open.

Mauresmo mixed her slice serve with power and took the initiative in getting to the net, refusing to let Capriati establish control from the baseline. Her low slice approaches were up the middle, taking away the potential angle from Capriati.

"Perhaps because I have a really clear goal, maybe I ask myself fewer questions about everything," Mauresmo said. "I just know how I have to play. If it works, great. If not, it's not meant to be."

The players spent more time running off the court and warming up than playing an actual match on the rain-soaked day.

"One more warmup and I'll be too tired to play," said Martina Navratilova, who lost her mixed-doubles match with partner Todd Woodbridge to Jonas Bjorkman and Anna Kournikova.

The unsettling circumstances would have appeared to favor Capriati, who has won three Grand Slam titles and is more experienced at this stage than Mauresmo, who has appeared in only one Slam final, the Australian Open three years ago.

Their match started almost four hours later than scheduled and the first service break came just before another rain delay. Serving at 2-3, Capriati appeared unnerved by the increasing rain and double faulted on break point.

"I could see she was getting a little [hacked] off," Mauresmo said of Capriati. "I guess that's the way it is. I tried to stay calm, as you say."

Closing it out is usually more difficult for Mauresmo and the tension went up a few levels when Capriati needed treatment from a tour trainer for her left shoulder and neck, trailing 4-1 in the second set. Mauresmo sat calmly in her chair during the medical timeout and needed only three more games to reach the semifinal.

Capriati said her neck was stiff when she got up in the morning and the cold weather, plus the lack of a decent warmup session, made it worse. She did not use it as an excuse.

"You just have to know that this is Wimbledon," Capriati said. "It didn't help to be playing an opponent today that was playing the best she's played in a long, long time. It's disappointing. It's a little bit of bad luck. But I've got to hand it to her. I mean, she played unbelievable."

Mauresmo agreed.

"At least on this surface, I think I've never played better tennis than today," she said.

Not so coincidentally, her best results at Grand Slams have come away from France.

"There's no pressure, maybe that's what helped me go so far here and in Australia," she said.

Three years ago, she beat then No. 1-ranked Lindsay Davenport in the semifinals at the Australian Open and lost to Martina Hingis in the final. Wednesday was the first time she had returned to a Slam semifinal since and it has been a long journey back to this stage.

"I think it is experience again, gaining maturity, growing up, learning from what I did," Mauresmo said. "Sometimes, you lose and you don't know why. As I was saying, the French Open was a good experience for me because it made me grow up a little bit. And I hope it's going to last."

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