Kournikova wins, Halard-Decugis retires

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On the night Anna Kournikova finally won at Madison Square Garden, Julie Halard-Decugis called it a career.

On the night Anna Kournikova finally won at Madison Square Garden, Julie Halard-Decugis called it a career.

"It's like 14 years I've been playing on the tour," Halard-Decugis said, "and I have other things to do in my life."

In her last singles match, Halard-Decugis was defeated by Martina Hingis 6-2, 6-3 Tuesday night in the opening round of the dlrs 2 million Chase Championships. It was a moment the French woman knew was coming.

"I was focused this year because I wanted to play well," she said. "I had some good tournaments ... Now, it's just a feeling that I want to stop, have a family life and do something else."

She ended her career with a double defeat. Despite their top seeding, Halard-Decugis and Japan's Ai Sugiyama lost to Belgium's Els Callens and Dominique Van Roost 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 in the night's final match.

Kournikova has played 84 tournaments and still doesn't have a title. In this, her third season-ending tournament, she finally won a match, beating Jennifer Capriati 6-4, 6-4.

"I always said ranking is much more important to me" than winning titles, Kournikova said, "and I think that I am playing really, really well right now. And it will come."

Like Kournikova, Amanda Coetzer ended a losing streak on the blue Garden carpet when she defeated eighth-seeded Chanda Rubin 6-2, 6-1. It was her first win in the tournament since 1993, when she made her debut in the event.

"It was nice to know what it feels like to win here," Coetzer said.

The first round will be completed Wednesday when sixth-seeded Nathalie Tauziat plays Amy Frazier, No. 3 Monica Seles takes on Sandrine Testud and second-seeded Lindsay Davenport begins the defense of her title against Elena Dementieva.

Kournikova, known as much for her magazine covers as her tennis, has beaten Capriati in three of their four career meetings, the only loss coming earlier this fall in Zurich, Switzerland.

"I was mentally prepared," the Russian said. "I had beaten Jennifer before and knew how to beat her."

For Capriati, once a child prodigy of tennis, a return to the Garden completed a long comeback in her career. The last of her three trips to the tournament was in 1992, when she reached the quarterfinals. But after spending time away from tennis, Capriati had qualified once again for the 16-player event.

"When I walked in, the memories just came back," Capriati said of the Garden, which is staging the Chase Championships for the final time. Next year, the tournament moves to Hamburg, Germany. "I had just kind of forgotten what it was like. It was good to be in there again."

She probably would like to forget Tuesday's match, when she double-faulted nine times, many at crucial points in the match.

"Some things didn't go my way," Capriati said. "A couple close calls, a couple close lines. I wish I would have maybe just stayed around a little bit longer."

Instead, it was Kournikova who came up with the big shots. And after falling behind 2-4 in the second set, she won the next four games to grab a spot in the quarterfinals, where she will face No. 4 Conchita Martinez.

Hingis had no problems with Halard-Decugis, thoroughly dominating their match.

"I was surprised myself how well I served," Hingis said. "I'm just enjoying myself out there."

Hingis won 60 points to just 36 for her French opponent. And the 20-year-old Swiss right-hander, who hasn't won a major tournament since the Australian Open in January 1999, won every important point in the match.

"I couldn't do anything on her serve," Halard-Decugis said. "She wasn't making any mistakes. And she knows my game very well."

With more than 2,000 students cheering every point in the morning match, Coetzer gained only her third win in nine matches against Rubin.

The winner of Sunday's title match will earn $500,000, with the losing finalist pocketing $250,000.

Results from the $2 million Chase Championships of the Sanex WTA Tour at Madison Square Garden:

Singles First Round

Amanda Coetzer (SA) def. (8) Chanda Rubin (US) 6-2, 6-1.

(1) Martina Hingis (Swi) def. Julie Halard-Decugis (Fr) 6-2, 6-3

(7) Anna Kournikova (Rus) def. Jennifer Capriati (US) 6-4, 6-4

Doubles First Round

(3)Lisa Raymond (US) and Rennae Stubbs (Aus) def. Alexandra Fusai and Nathalie Tauziat (Fr) 6-4, 7-6 (5).

Els Callens and Dominique Van Roost (Bel) def. (1) Julie Halard-Decugis (Fr) and Ai Sugiyama (Jpn) 2-6, 6-3, 6-4.