Capriati's record recovery

Australian Open: Holder rewrites history as she saves four match points to deny distressed Hingis
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The Independent Online

Jennifer Capriati beat Martina Hingis in an enthralling contest to lift the Australian Open title for the second consecutive year.

In doing so, she broke a record that had stood for 113 years by saving four match points.

In sweltering 100 degree plus temperatures at Melbourne Park yesterday, the defending champion bounced back from losing the first set to win 4–6 7–6 6–2.

At 5–1 down in the second set she saved four match points to force the tie-break which she eventually won after 66 minutes, repeating her triumph over the Swiss 21–year–old here 12 months ago.

It was the first time in 46 years that anyone had come so close to defeat in the Australian Open and battled back to win.

That the American became only the fourth player, man or woman, to fend off a match point and win the Australian Open fits in with the remarkable recovery she made by rebuilding her chaotic personal life to reach the top of the women's game.

"There were a few moments when I got really agitated," Capriati admitted after trying to get a line judge removed over a bad line call. "I was really sure that ball was out. How could he miss that and I told the umpire I wanted the guy to leave as I thought he was making a few mistakes. It was hot and I was losing and that was the last thing I needed."

For the first hour Martina Hingis took control of the match and there only looked like there would be one winner. She looked as good as home when she took the four–game lead in the second set.

Hingis had Capriati running from one side of the court to the other in searing heat while she stood cool and unruffled as she took the first set with a service break as early as the second game.

At 6-4 and 4-0 she seemed poised to win her first Grand Slam in three years, but she went on to lose in a manner that evoked memories of Jana Novotna's memorable choke in the 1993 Wimbledon final against Steffi Graf after leading 4-1 in the deciding set.

"Later on, yes, I had match points, but at a set and 4-0 you shouldn't give it away any more," Hingis said. "I wish I had the 4-0 lead again. I shouldn't let it slip away at that point... you just can't let a player get back into the match – that was a mistake."

"I don't know how I won," said Capriati. "I really don't. I kept fighting and when I was match points down I just went for it. The heat was really incredible out there. It was really hot and winning the second set was the key.

"She did play well, but I was taken aback by the heat and I was really feeling it so I had to dig deep to win," Capriati said.

The heat and oppressive humidity were the dominant factors which took their toll on both players.

Losing the second set 3–0 Capriati left the court to remove the strappings on her thighs which, she said, were hot and uncomfortable. Even though she lost the next game, she started to move Hingis around the court and slowly worked her way into the set and took it to a tie-break.

After a mammoth tie-break in which Hingis had her fourth match point, but was unable to convert, Capriati won the set. Both players then took a ten minute break before the next set - a rule that the WTA brought into play six years ago when temperatures rise above 38 degrees, but the first time it has been used in a Grand Slam final.

At the restart there only looked like one winner as Hingis was showing signs of distress, wrapping ice packs round her neck at the changeovers and looking disorientated between points.

At 3–2 to Capriati in the third and deciding set Hingis called for the trainer again, visibly distressed after losing the second.

She double foot–faulted to let Capriati in at 4–2 and the girl from Florida, where they know what heat is, seized her chance to clinch the match.

She said: "The first few points I sort of angled it away from her and won the point and then she angled it away from me and also won the point as we both couldn't run until we got warmed up again.

"It got a little breezy out there and it cooled off and I got a second wind – and a third wind, and a fourth wind – I don't know how many winds I had!"

Hingis has now lost three consecutive Australian Open finals and she might never have a better chance than the one she surrendered yesterday. But she is optimistic that she can reclaim the title she last won, for the third time, in 1999. "Sometimes it takes a little longer," she said of her own career-rebuilding. "You can't expect everything to happen right away. It is not like you snap your fingers and you are going to win a Grand Slam."