Capriati encouraged by return to form

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The Independent Online

Jennifer Capriati took her career prize-money to $7m (£4.4m) here yesterday by winning her first match of the year. Afterwards the American third seed said the way she was hitting the ball under the Dubai sun after her recent eye problems made her feel like a million dollars whether she won or lost.

"I could feel my strokes were good out there," said Capriati, who defeated Svetlana Kuznetsova, of Russia, 6-2, 6-1. "I've been practising well, and I applied it right into the match. I showed to myself that it's getting better."

Capriati, who had eye surgery to remove cataract-like obstructions to both corneas last November, lost her first two matches of the year, in Sydney and at the Australian Open, and then withdrew from a tournament in Tokyo, saying her eyes had not fully recovered from the operation.

While Serena and Venus Williams were dominating the women's singles in the season's first Grand Slam championships in Melbourne, Capriati, who had held the title for the previous two years, decided to take a holiday on the Great Barrier Reef after losing in the first round to Marlene Weingartner, of Germany.

"I can look at it as a sort of blessing in disguise that I lost early in Australia and had a week to try and relax and get my mind clear," the 26-year-old Capriati said. "Then I came back and I had a lot of motivation to work out and get back in the shape that I've been in before when I've done really well."

Capriati, who had a bye in the first round of the Dubai Duty Free Open, generally controlled the match against the 48th-ranked Kuznetsova, who created a good deal of mirth when partnering Martina Navratilova in the doubles on Tuesday night by calling for the trainer to spray her hair, which was being blown into her eyes by the strong wind. The sturdy Russian's problem in yesterday's warm, calm conditions was in trying to counter Capriati's growing confidence.

Capriati is due to play Conchita Martinez, the Spanish former Wimbledon champion in the quarter-finals this evening. Capriati has won five of their nine previous meetings, Martinez taking their last encounter in Zurich last year.

Amelie Mauresmo, the defending champion, played Petra Mandula for the first time last night, the Frenchwoman only edging out the Hungarian qualifier 7-5 in a third-set tie-break, prevailing 6-2, 2-6, 7-6. In the last eight she meets Russia's Lina Krasnoroutskaya, whose Swiss opponent, Patty Schnyder, retired with a back strain after losing the first set, 6-1.

Justine Henin-Hardenne, the No 1 seed, was relieved to scrape through her opening match against Anca Barna, a lively German qualifier. The left-handed Barna capitalised on Henin's erratic play in the first set, when the Belgian's celebrated backhand was prone to almost laughable errors, and her forehand broke down under pressure. Although Henin's game did not improve as much as she hoped, she was able to dictate the majority of points in the second and third sets to win, 1-6, 6-2, 6-4.