WIMBLEDON, England -- The slipper came off America's tennis Cinderella yesterday, and it wasn't even near midnight when Jennifer Capriati slapped her last valiant backhand into the net in a 6-4, 6-4 Wimbledon semifinal loss to Gabriela Sabatini of Argentina.
Capriati had stolen the Wimbledon spotlight Wednesday with her shocking straight-set victory over nine-time champion Martina Navratilova. And some here were inclined to think that Capriati was on a roll that would add up to Navratilova one day, Sabatini the next and Graf in the end. As it turned out, the 15-year-old Capriati was like a kid in a candy shop. Her eyes were bigger than her stomach.
But even though Capriati was not nearly as sharp as she was against Navratilova, there was no questioning her heart. Down by one set and two breaks at 4-1 in the second set, Capriati kept pounding away, got one of the breaks back, saved three match points on her own serve at 3-5 and another on Sabatini's serve at 4-5, before succumbing to the fifth.
"When I came back to make it 5-4," Capriati said, "and I saved triple match point on my serve, I got a little confidence and I said to myself that maybe I can still come back."
But Sabatini, who was diving for shots and matching the hard-hitting Capriati shot for shot throughout, was simply a slightly better player. That meant that form was followed in the women's draw for Saturday's final, with No. 2-seeded Sabatini gaining yet another matchup in yet another tournament final with her archrival, Steffi Graf of Germany. Graf, seeded No. 1, walked through an overmatched Mary Joe Fernandez in yesterday's other women's semifinal, 6-2, 6-4.
Neither Graf nor Sabatini has lost a set here; Graf has lost a total of only 23 games, Sabatini 34.
After the semifinals, the winners expressed vastly different degrees of satisfaction.
Said Graf: "I think I wasn't as aggressive, and I think I made more mistakes than usual, which I wasn't too happy about."
Said Sabatini: "I'm pretty happy with the game today. I think at this moment, I'm playing good tennis."
But it was left to Capriati to have kind of a final word on how things are now that she has done all but conquer Wimbledon.
"I guess I'm pretty famous in the States," she said, "but I really don't let it get to me. I really don't think about it. I'm just still a normal kid."
A normal kid, that is, with a victory over Martina Navratilova on Centre Court at Wimbledon.