Tennis: Capriati keeps her comeback rolling

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The Independent Online


reports from Key Biscayne

Jennifer Capriati's comeback gained impetus here last evening with a victory against the No 10 seed, Amanda Coetzer, of South Africa, in the third round of the Lipton Championships.

The computer points Capriati accumulated with a 6-4, 0-6, 6-1 win guarantees her a world ranking of around No 105 when she appears on the list next Monday for the first time since June, 1994. She now plays Gabriela Sabatini, the No 4 seed, for a place in the quarter-finals that would see her soar into the top 100.

Coetzer, it will be remembered, ended Steffi Graf's 32-match unbeaten run at the Canadian Open last year - and lost to Monica Seles in the final. It was the first tournament of Seles's comeback.

Graf played as elegantly as she looked in a white dress while advancing to the fourth round with a 6-3, 6-2 win against Gigi Fernandez. The defending champion hit 35 winners, 12 on the backhand, and was guilty of only a handful of unforced errors.

Impressive though the statistics are, a greater impression was created by the freedom with which Graf played, interspersing her forehands with intelligent lobs and the odd volley. It was probably only coincidence that the German's chief rival here, Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, had been eliminated after a frenzied match the previous evening.

Graf and Sanchez Vicario have dominated the event for the past four years, but the Spanish second seed was unable to contain Karina Habsudova, a talented Slovak, in her opening match.

Habsudova, ranked No 98, won 2-6, 6-3, 7-6, but only after having a 5- 2 lead whittled away in the final set. She was unable to convert a match point at 5-3 and two more at 6-5, and finally secured victory at the fourth attempt in a tie-break, 7-4, after Sanchez Vicario had led 3-1.

Graf and Fernandez, a Wimbledon semi-finalist in 1994, had only played each other twice before on the tour, with ll years separating the matches. The American won an encounter on grass in Sydney in 1983, Graf making amends on a rubberised concrete court at Indian Wells, California, two years ago.

Few would have guessed that they had experienced so little of each other's shots when the fourth game unfolded yesterday. They duelled through 26 points, with Fernandez saving four break points before holding serve.

Having survived that, the American double-faulted to present Graf with a 5-3 lead. Fernandez found herself with an opportunity to break back as Graf missed a volley when serving for the set, but the Wimbledon champion rescued the situation with a forehand pass.

Graf broke in the opening game of the second set, from which point the spectators were able to relax and enjoy the variety of her shots. Naturally, Graf was not entirely satisfied with her performance. "I think it was a pretty solid match, but maybe sometimes on my return I did not step into my slices as often as I should, so that's the only thing I would criticise," she said.

Having dispensed with one American Fernandez, Graf is faced with another. She now plays Gigi's former doubles partner, Mary Joe.

Andre Agassi, the men's defending champion, teetered on Saturday night before winning his opening match 6-4, 1-6, 7-6, against Germany's Bernd Karbacher, ranked No 49. Agassi, the No 3 seed, appeared lethargic at times, even though the draw had opened up before he arrived on court, Boris Becker withdrawing due to illness and Thomas Muster again finding the No 1 ranking to be a banana skin.

Sampras, who will return to No 1 if he wins the title, advanced to the fourth round with a 7-5, 7- 6 victory against Jakob Hlasek, of Switzerland. Sampras next plays his American compatriot Todd Martin.