US Open - Capriati emerges from the shadows

STEFANO CAPRIATI was beaming. His daughter, Jennifer, blew kisses to the crowd. It was just like the old days for the young woman who lost her way as a teenaged tennis prodigy. As Jennifer said: "I'm 23, but I feel like I've lived a few lifetimes."

STEFANO CAPRIATI was beaming. His daughter, Jennifer, blew kisses to the crowd. It was just like the old days for the young woman who lost her way as a teenaged tennis prodigy. As Jennifer said: "I'm 23, but I feel like I've lived a few lifetimes."

Capriati had not won a match at the United States Open since 1992 until she stepped on court last week against Iva Majoli, the 1997 French Open champion. Yesterday, she advanced to the fourth round after defeating Nathalie Tauziat, the 1998 Wimbledon runner-up, 6-3 1-6 6-1.

The 31-year-old Tauziat's attacking style has suited Capriati's passing game in good times and in times less good, so the American's fifth consecutive victory against the Frenchwoman was surprising chiefly because of a preception that Capriati would have to overcome the magnitude of the US Open as well as the 11th seed.

Capriati, aided by the astute coaching of Harold Solomon, has advanced from the shadows to No 40 in the world. While lacking the unbridled confidence she had as a teenager who terrorised the biggest names in the women's game, she has become a worthy competitor again. "I'm very relaxed," she said. "I feel no pressure."

Unsettling Tauziat by moving to the net at opportune moments, Capriati took a 5-0 lead before the Frenchwoman found her range. A double-fault - one of 11 by Capriati - meant that she would have to serve for the set a second time, and there was a minor crisis when Tauziat held a break point at 3-5, only to net a forehand.

Although Tauziat was broken to love in the opening game of the second set, she recovered and began to show commanding form. As the games began to run against Capriati, there were signs of weariness in some of her strokes. Tauziat duly levelled the match, and the fascinated mid-morning audience in the Arthur Ashe Stadium prepared for the decisive set.

Cheering Capriati's efforts, they were quickly rewarded when the American broke for 2-0. Although Tauziat retaliated immediately, Capriati broke again, for 1-3, hitting her groundstrokes deep and from sharp angles, as she had earlier. One of her winners was particularly impressive as Capriati dashed to retrieve a drop shot, dipping low to angle a backhand pass. Capriati went on to win in 83 minutes.

The downside of Capriati's career, which led to treatment at a drugs rehabilitation centre, fortunately did not preclude other talented youngsters from taking to the courts. A fine example of the wonderful tennis they produce was seen on the Louis Armstrong Stadium Court yesterday, where Serena Williams, 17, narrowly escaped defeat by the 16-year-old Kim Clijsters, from Belgium, the youngest player in the draw.

In a dramatic finish, Clijsters served for the match at 5-3 in the third set - but Williams won 16 of the last 17 points, 14 in a row, to win 4- 6 6-2 7-5. Clijsters double-faulted at 0-40 to lose the ninth game. Williams served brilliantly to love to level at at 5-5. Clijsters failed to win a point in her next service game, and only salvaged one as Williams served the match out.

Andre Agassi, the No 2 seed, is through to the second week of the men's singles, which has been depleted by injuries to Pete Sampras, Pat Rafter, Mark Philippoussis and Carlos Moya. Agassi gradually subdued the demonstrative Justin Gimelstob, from New Jersey, 6-1 4-6 6-3 6-4.

Agassi now plays Arnaud Clement, a 21-year-old Frenchman who has made good use of his wild card, building on his elimination of Michael Chang in straight sets by advancing to the fourth round at the expense of Nicolas Kiefer, the German No 15 seed.

Clement, ranked No 52, is one of the smaller emerging contenders (5ft 8in), but his neat, smooth, resilient style has impressed observers. Kiefer began efficiently, taking the opening set, but quickly discovered that Clement was happy to trade groundstrokes and retrieve seemingly lost causes. The Frenchman eventually won 4-6 6-4 6-4 6-2.

Agassi, asked how he rated his title chances, played the ball flat. "Clement is going to be a problem," he said. "I'm not concerned with the rest of the tournament."

Richard Krajicek hit 20 aces past John van Lottum, a Dutch compatriot, to progress to the fourth round, 6-4 6-1 6-4. Krajicek, seeded No 12, is projected to meet Yevgeny Kafelnikov in the quarter-finals. The Russian No 3 seed seems keen to keep the appointment, judging by his 6-1 6-4 6- 4 three sets win against Jonas Bjorkman of Sweden.

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