CARLSBAD, Calif. -- Through three sets and a tiebreaker, 15-year-old Jennifer Capriati matched Monica Seles, the No. 1 player in the world, volley for volley and game for game.
Finally, Seles' backhand fell short, hitting the net and Capriati had the biggest victory of her career.
Capriati, seeded fourth in the Mazda Tennis Classic, defeated Seles, 4-6, 6-1, 7-5 (7-2), in a championship match featuring the two youngest finalists since the open era began in women's tennis.
The loss dropped Seles, 17, to No. 2 in the world rankings and allowed Steffi Graf to regain the No. 1 spot. However, because Graf is not accumulating any points this week after withdrawing from the Canadian Open, Seles will regain her No. 1 ranking next Monday.
Capriati, meanwhile, moved up to No. 8. She and Seles battled for two hours until finally, under a hot sun and before a sellout crowd of 5,200 that seemed to favor Capriati, Seles' shot went into the net.
Game, set, match.
Capriati's fists shot up into the air and her feet left the ground. Then she made toward the stands. Once there, she hugged her mother and father. Then there was a winner's check for $45,000 and car keys.
And she does not even have her learner's permit yet, let alone her driver's license.
No matter. She hopped into her new convertible -- with her father in the passenger's seat -- and took it for a quick drive around the resort.
Why not? For the second time in three weeks she stalked Seles, and won. Her first victory over Seles came two weeks ago in an unsanctioned tournament in Mahwah, N.J.
"Jennifer played a great match," Seles said. "I think it was a very close match. Both of us are big fighters. Neither of us wanted to let go."
Capriati said the Mahwah match was on her mind yesterday.
"I thought I did it there; there's no reason I can't do it again," Capriati said.
After dropping the first set, Capriati won eight of the next nine games. She was ahead in the third set, 5-3, before Seles nearly stole it back after pulling into a 5-5 tie.
With Seles serving in the 11th game, Capriati blew a love-40 advantage and lost. The 12th game went 14 points before Capriati finally won, forcing a tiebreaker.
Seles won two of the first three points in the tiebreaker before Capriati won five in a row.
"I was up, 5-3, and then she got it back," Capriati said. "At that point, I thought I was in trouble."
Instead, Capriati continued her ascent on the women's tour.
"I think she is definitely playing well," Seles said. "If she is going to play that well, everyone is going to have a tough time with her, that's for sure."
Seles said she was not too upset at losing her top ranking.
"When I was No. 1, I really didn't think about it," Seles said. "When you're No. 1, it's not like when you win a tournament and you are so emotional. But when you're No. 1, it's always there and you always feel it.
"When you lose it, it's very emotional, and when you get it back, it's very emotional -- but just for that one day."
Capriati settled down by the time the awards ceremony finished and she stepped off the court. At a post-match news conference, somebody asked her why she wasn't more emotional.
"What do you want me to do?" Capriati replied. "Do flips or something?"