Hingis aims to dethrone Capriati

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The Independent Online

A nervous Martina Hingis missed an easy overhead as she served for the match at 5-4 and 30-0 in the third set of her Australian Open semi-final against Monica Seles here yesterday. Rather than curse or hurl her racket down, she burst out laughing.

Hingis knew she was going to win, which she duly did, 4-6, 6-1, 6-4, and she is serenely confident of overcoming the defending champion, Jennifer Capriati, in tomorrow's final. Capriati overpowered her here last year to secure her first Grand Slam title. This time, the 21-year-old Swiss player is convinced, the outcome will be different.

"I'm going into this final having played great matches and I believe in myself again. It's a nice feeling," said Hingis, a three- times Australian Open champion who will be playing her sixth successive final at Melbourne Park. "It will be great playing her [Capriati] and now it's the other way round: she has to defend the title and I'm the rookie."

Capriati, who defeated the Belgian Kim Clijsters, 7-5, 3-6, 6-1, in the other semi-final, also remarked on the reversal of roles. "For the first time of going up against her [Hingis], she'll be the underdog and I'm the favourite to win," said the 25-year-old American.

Neither woman had a walkover yesterday, with Hingis, the No 3 seed, weathering a first-set onslaught from a reinvigorated Seles and Capriati, the top seed, surviving a shaky second set.

Clijsters, a rising talent, failed to exact revenge for last year's epic French Open final, where Capriati triumphed 12-10 in the third set to win her second Grand Slam. Yesterday the American maintained the edge in the first set, which saw seven breaks of serve.

After allowing the Belgian to dominate the second set, Capriati wore down Clijsters with more aggressive play in the third. She served the match out to love after 97 minutes, concluding with her third ace on match point. "I wanted to make her run, but she just played too good," Clijsters said. "She played the points short, finished them off as soon as she could."

Seles – bolstered by her first career victory over Venus Williams, in the quarter-finals – began at a furious pace, and another upset appeared likely as she broke Hingis's serve in the opening game and wrapped up the first set in 39 minutes. But the exertion took its toll and she lost her rhythm in the second, while Hingis used all her guile to bounce back.

In the third set, the Swiss player broke twice for a 4-1 lead and withstood a late rally by the Yugoslav-born American. "She makes you put a little extra on," Seles said. "I made too many unforced errors at key times. Against a player like Martina, you can't afford that."

Hingis – who returned to court later to partner Anna Kournikova in a 6-7, 6-1, 6-0 doubles semi-final victory over Lisa Raymond and Rennae Stubbs – won five Grand Slam titles as a teenager, but has not added to the collection since 1999.

Thomas Johansson, of Sweden, went through to Sunday's men's final after beating Jiri Novak, of the Czech Republic, 7-6, 0-6, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4.

Despite the importance of the semi-final, Novak had no hesitation in demonstrating his sportsmanship by conceding a point at 40-15 in the third game of the third set when a ball from Johansson clipped the line but was ruled out.

"I saw that this ball was definitely before the line, was in, and I didn't have any reason to show him the ball was out," Novak said.

Johansson will meet the winner of today's other semi-final between Tommy Haas, of Germany, and the Russian Marat Safin.