Capriati finds technique to beat the wind

American defies blustery conditions to defeat Dechy as Rubin survives loss of cap to join her in semi-finals
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The Independent Online

It could be said that Jennifer Capriati, Chanda Rubin, Conchita Martinez and Silvia Farina Elia were blown into the semi-finals of the Hastings Direct International Championships here yesterday. Conversely, Nathalie Dechy, Anna Pistolesi, Daniela Hantuchova and Magdalena Maleeva might argue that they were blown out of the tournament. All eight players were thankful that they were not standing on Beachy Head.

"The conditions are so difficult out there that it's hard to call it tennis," said Capriati, who recovered from 4-1 down in the second set to defeat Dechy, of France, 6-1, 7-5. "I hope my timing's not going to get messed up so that when it's calm I still know how to hit the ball in the middle."

Rubin, the defending champion, suffered one minor crisis: her cap flew off as she served and the umpire would not allow her to replay the point she had lost. Rightly or wrongly, the decision at least allowed Pistolesi a second or two of respite en route to a 6-1, 6-0 defeat. Rubin plays Capriati today.

Maleeva had cause to rue her loss to Farina Elia, 5-7, 6-4, 6-4, after leading 3-0 in the second set. A win would have lifted the Bulgarian back up into the world's top 10 next Monday, seven years to the day since she was last ranked among the élite.

Martinez, an Eastbourne semi-finalist for the first time, showed glimpses of the form that enabled her to defeat Martina Navratilova in the 1994 Wimbledon final. The Spaniard's low ball toss caused her less trouble on serve than Hantuchova, who gives the ball more air before striking it. "The wind was pretty tough," Hantuchova said, after lsoing, 6-2, 6-3, "and Conchita used her experience."

Did Hantuchova not consider lowering her ball toss in such blustery conditions? "It's not a good thing to adjust technical things during a match," the Slovakian said. "I was sticking to my shots. One day it works, one day it doesn't. I kept going to the end, but she was better today."

Martinez concurred. "I'm playing really well, working hard and beating good players, using my slice and making them play," she said. "I'm very motivated. I have the game to play on grass. I can slice and serve. It took me a long time to like playing on grass. It is a very difficult surface, especially if you are a clay-courter. But if you go with the right kind of mind you can improve on it."

Can the Spanish men do well in SW19 during the next fortnight? "Yes, I think so," Martinez said, "if they do that click in their mind and go out and do their best. You have to think if one bounce is bad, that is the way it is on grass."

Although she has a home in Barcelona, Martinez is a keen supporter of Real Madrid. "It was quite a shock to hear that David Beckham is going to play for the team," she said. "I haven't seen him play a lot, but I usually only see Spanish football, but I hear he's a great player and I'm looking forward to seeing how fit in with our great team."

The catchphrase here is slice it like Conchita.

* The top seed, Kim Clijsters, had to work hard to win her Ordina Open quarter-final in Rosmalen, Netherlands, yesterday against the unseeded Tina Pisnik. The world No 2 has yet to win this tournament in four attempts, and last year went out to Pisnik in the quarter-finals. This year the 44th-ranked Slovenian again resisted fiercely but a hard-fought match ended when she netted an easy volley, Clijsters winning 7-6, 7-6. In another quarter-final, Nadia Petrova won an all-Russian tie with last year's losing finalist Elena Dementieva, 6-4, 3-6, 6-2.