S. Williams Tops Capriati in Italy

Sunday, May 19th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

ROME (AP) _ Serena Williams sailed through the first set in 27 minutes, then held off Jennifer Capriati on Saturday to reach the final of the Italian Open.

Williams outlasted Capriati 6-2, 3-6, 7-5 in 2 hours, 15 minutes to set up a rematch with Justine Henin in Sunday's final. Last week, Williams lost a third-set tiebreaker to Henin in the German Open.

Henin defeated fellow Belgian Kim Clijsters 7-5, 6-2 in the first semifinal.

After losing her serve in the second set's final game, Williams regained control after falling behind 3-0 in the deciding set.

Capriati, who took over the world's No. 1 ranking ahead of Venus Williams by reaching the semifinals, let Williams serve for the match by double-faulting on break point at 5-5.

Williams then closed out the victory with a strong serve and fierce approach shot for a winner.

``It was one of those Lennox Lewis-Mike Tyson fights,'' Williams said. ``I'm just glad I was able to come through.''

The match seemed to turn in Williams' favor after the No. 4 seed took a medical timeout early in the third set to treat a sore thigh.

``I stiffened up a little bit also,'' the second-seeded Capriati said. ``I had the momentum, and maybe that shifted it a little bit.''

Williams said she hurt herself from all the sliding on the slippery red clay surface used in this major tuneup event for the French Open, which begins May 27. On one such slide, Williams ended up in a split, with her gold-colored sneakers 180-degrees apart.

But the 20-year-old Williams said the injury would not stop her from playing Sunday's final.

``I'm a fighter, and I'm definitely going to go out there and do my best,'' she said. ``I love the competition, that's what makes tennis exciting for me. This should be a good match, hopefully not a repeat of Berlin.''

Capriati took over the world's top ranking from Serena's sister, Venus, who pulled out of the event with a wrist injury.

Henin, 19, broke the 18-year-old Clijsters when she was serving for the first set at 5-3. Henin broke again to go up 6-5 and then held to close out the set.

Henin also won the last five games of the second set to even the series record between the two Belgians at 4-4.

Clijsters, the No. 3 seed, won the last two matches against Henin _ both on hardcourts.

``Until 5-5 in the first set, I felt like I was dominating all of the points,'' Clijsters said.

``But Justine fights for every ball and she defends really well. When you play her _ especially on clay _ the ball keeps going back a few more times.''