Capriati completes long road to final

Hingis's Paris jinx strikes again as former wild child turns on power to set up showdown with teenage Belgian
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Eleven years after becoming the youngest-ever French Open semi-finalist, aged 14 and two months, Jennifer Capriati has made it to the final.

Eight years after supplanting Capriati as the youngest-ever Grand Slam junior champion at the French Open, aged 12, Martina Hingis remains frustratingly empty handed as an adult on the clay courts of Paris.

Capriati's joy and Hingis's disappointment was evident in their faces yesterday after the American fourth seed had overpowered the Swiss world No 1, 6-4, 6-3, in the semi-finals.

In tomorrow's final, Capriati will play Kim Clijsters, who marked her 18th birthday a day early by becoming Belgium's first representative of either sex ever to advance to a Grand Slam final. To do so, Clijsters recovered from being a set and a break down to defeat her 19-year-old compatriot, Justine Henin, 2-6, 7-5, 6-3.

Capriati's result against Hingis was a repeat of their match in the final of the Australian Open in January, when Capriati's triumph confirmed her rehabilitation as a player of substance after her troubled years as a teenager.

Hingis has been consistent enough to hold her position at the top of the sport's computer rankings, but she has not won a Grand Slam singles title since securing her fifth at the 1999 Australian Open.

Since then, Hingis's intelligent game, reliant on working opponents around the court, has tended to be overwhelmed on the major occasions by bigger hitters, such as the Williams sisters, Venus and Serena, Lindsay Davenport, and the revived Capriati.

"Jennifer played a good match today, better than me," Hingis said, admitting that she had not had enough tough matches en route to the semi-finals to be fully prepared for the challenge. "Mentally, I've always been somewhere out in the clouds before this tournament. You have to have so much patience playing on clay."

Having failed three times in French Open finals, Hingis was asked to explain how difficult it was for her to maintain such high standards generally. "Other players get injured, but with me it's more of a mental problem to stay in there and to be hungry. Maybe the problem has been the boyfriends sometimes in the past. But now it should be fine. I'll see."

The biggest threat to Capriati yesterday was the state of her right knee, which caused her to take an injury time-out when leading 4-1 in the first set. "It's painful when I twist and turn or push forward on the right side," she told the trainer.

Hingis, who had been unable to capitalise after breaking in the opening game, suddenly began to find openings. She held for 2-4, broke for 3-4 and then levelled at 4-4 after Capriati's knee had received further massage during the change-over.

The closest Hingis came to securing the set was when she held two break points which, if either had been converted, would have seen her serve at 5-4. But Capriati was rescued by her forehand and when Hingis next served it was to try and save the set at 4-5. Under pressure from Capriati, Hingis double-faulted to 15-40 and then hit a backhand wide on the first set point after 39 minutes.

Although Capriati double-faulted to lose the opening game of the second set, she broke back immediately and seemed to be moving well enough to hammer her shots again. Hingis had a touch of luck in saving a break point at 1-2, her backhand drop shot clipping the net-cord and slipping over.

Hingis must have despaired of her chances after failing to convert any of three break points after Capriati double-faulted to 0-40 in the seven game. The American saved the first with an unreturnable serve. Hingis hit a backhand long on the second, attempting to return a second serve, and netted a forehand after a brisk rally on the third.

Capriati held and Hingis's confidence was so low by then that in the next game she was broken from 40-0, hitting a forehand over the baseline on Capriati's second break point. Capriati served the match out to love after 76 minutes.

"I'm just proud of myself for playing good tennis," she said. "I never knew after I got to the semi-finals here when I was 14 if it would ever come again. It wasn't looking that way a few years ago." Clijsters, the No 12 seed, was outplayed by Henin until she saved three break points at 2-4 in the second set. Clijsters was able to reverse the momentum of the contest after Henin double-faulted for 4-4.

"It's not that I was playing bad in the beginning," Clijsters said. "Justine just played too good for me. She was serving well, returning well, and hardly made mistakes up to 4-2 in the second set. But that's tennis. In tennis, you always have a chance to come back and win the match."