Fernandez takes longest road back Graf gives Capriati a quick trip home FRENCH OPEN

June 02, 1993|By Robin Finn | Robin Finn,N.Y. Times News Service

PARIS -- She was on the run, on the defensive, and, after two sets on the French Open's red clay against Steffi Graf, Jennifer Capriati was on her way home to Florida.

Not so with another underdog, fifth-seeded Mary Joe Fernandez, who resurrected herself from the brink of elimination against third-seeded Gabriela Sabatini in a bizarre quarterfinal encounter that produced five match points for each player.

While a rematch of the 1992 Olympic final between the top-seeded Graf and Capriati played itself out on center stage, the standing-room-only crowd at Court One pulsated with disbelief over a match of Olympian proportions between Sabatini, who hasn't won a title in 18 events, and Fernandez, who's never won a Grand Slam.

Using the net as a mutual crutch at the end, the protagonists leaned in and embraced after their 3-hour-36-minute epic that turned from a 53-minute rout for Sabatini into the third-longest women's match in the Open era.

Fernandez described the match as a personally miraculous, 1-6, 7-6 (7-4), 10-8 comeback, in which she reversed a 1-6, 1-5 deficit, nullified five second-set match points and somehow had the last word in the third.

"Mentally I was getting a little tired in the third, but I kept telling myself, 'I've come back, so I have to keep going,' " said Fernandez, who ended the contest with a searing, down-the-line backhand on her fifth match point after Sabatini set her up for the kill by double-faulting. "I kept getting match points, and she kept playing great shots, but when I got the short ball I said, 'Let's just hit it as hard as I can,' and I knew as soon as it landed that she wasn't going to run for it."

Fernandez has occasionally stood accused of being a passive baseliner who allows opponents to bungle away matches rather than seizing the moment herself. But yesterday, in the words of the loser, Fernandez transcended herself.

"I know she takes risks, but the way she did today, I've never seen anything like that," said Sabatini, who made a similar transition her self in 1990, which carried her to the U.S. Open title. "Today I think I lost my concentration, and then she started to hit the ball so hard, it was really unbelievable. I had the match in my hands."

Sabatini double-faulted away her first match point, and Capriati paid a harsh price for a double fault, as well.

Graf was businesslike in her 6-3, 7-5 dismissal of Capriati, 17, who saved two match points but double-faulted to grant Graf a third, which the German converted with a pre-emptive forehand volley.

"It hasn't hit me that I double-faulted at that time," said the sixth-seeded Capriati, "but I guess I did.

Graf will face 18-year-old Anke Huber of Germany in tomorrow's semifinals. Huber advanced to her first Slam semifinal by upsetting Conchita Martinez, 6-7 (7-2), 6-4, 6-4.

Fernandez will take on Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, seeded second and the 1989 champion here.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.