Capriati the epic fall-girl

US Open: Agony for the home heroine as Henin-Hardenne battles through a New York thriller

What befell Jennifer Capriati here in the semi-finals of the United States Open was hard to take, even for a graduate of Heartbreak High. Having been within two points of reaching her first home Grand Slam final nine times, the 27-year-old American could hardly believe it when the slight but tenacious Justine Henin-Hardenne advanced to an all-Belgian finale against Kim Clijsters.

The partisan spectators were as stunned as Capriati when three hours of the some of the most exciting women's tennis seen here for years ended in anti-climax for all but the Belgians and the neutrals. But even the biased observers were able to swallow their disappointment at the result and rise to Henin, a competitor with more bottle than Stella Artois

Henin, the second seed, prevailed, 4-6 7-5 7-6, after Capriati had served for the match at 5-3 in the second set and again at 5-3 in the third set. "I just need to sleep," the dehydrated Belgian said before leaving the court and being put on an IV drip.

Capriati went off in search of a place to shed tears of disappointment. "That's what the locker room's for," she said later, managing a sad smile as she re-emerged to face the world's tennis media, a trial she has grown accustomed to during a career that has granted her fewer highs than lows.

"It hurts," she said. "When I came off the court I just felt like the whole world was coming down on me. That my heart was being ripped out."

The duel under the floodlights was a late arrangement to make up for days of rain delays, but the crowd, stimulated by Capriati's passion and commitment, turned a half-full Arthur Ashe Stadium into a rousing arena.

When defeating Serena Williams in the semi-finals of the French Open last June, Henin had the Paris crowd on her side, cheering Williams's errors. The reverse was the case here, and New Yorkers certainly know how to intimidate when they are in the mood.

At first Henin kept the crowd quiet by breaking Capriati twice to take a 4-1 lead in the opening set. The Belgian was upset when a point for 5-2 was over-ruled, but the crowd, remembering how Henin had held up a hand on a point against Williams in Paris, took delight in shouting her down.

Having recovered to take the set, Capriati began to take control. Though Henin continued to go for winners in the second set, Capriati refused to accept any point as a lost cause, retrieving drop-shots and surging to counter Henin's famous backhand.

All was going well until Capriati had a chance to close the match out at 5-3. A combination of the American's nerves and Henin's determination conspired to cause a dramatic change, Henin winning four games in a row to snatch the set away and level the match.

Henin broke in the opening game of the final set with one of those splendid cross-court backhands, but Capriati immediately recovered the break and appeared to have navigated a second course to the final when Henin missed a forehand to lose serve for 1-3.

Although the crowd tried to ignore the déjà vu that spread across the court as Capriati prepared to serve at 5-3, Henin seemed to feed off it. She unnerved Capriati with a backhand winner and then lured her opponent to net a backhand on break point.

By now, Capriati was in full "how can this be happening to me?" mode. Although Henin jarred her left thigh in the 12th game, renewed confidence carried her through the tie-break. The Belgian won the first three points and refused to give ground, winning the shoot-out 7-4.

"You have to give her credit," Capriati said, "for the way she was feeling, just to stay out there and try to win. But I definitely had the match in my hands. I just beat myself. I lost the momentum a couple of times."

Having redeemed her career by winning the Australian Open and the French Open in 2001 and the Australian Open again in 2002 to become world No 1, Capriati had hoped finally to capitalise at the US Open in the absence of the Williams sisters. In 1991, it may remembered, Capriati was nudged out of the semi-finals after a tremendous battle with Monica Seles.

"Probably in the next few days it's going to be hard to look at as just a match," Capriati said. "But it's not the end of the world. Worse things can happen. Before, maybe, I would have been more devastated. I wouldn't have handled it the right way. But now, instead of looking at myself as a failure for not winning, I know I gave it all I had and showed a lot of heart."

Lindsay Davenport, the other American hope in the women's tournament, was defeated by Clijsters, 6-2, 6-3. Davenport intends to have surgery to her injured left foot.

Caption competition
Caption competition
Daily World Cup Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice