Defending champion Capriati wins her first-round match

Tuesday, January 15, 2002

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Jennifer Capriati began defense of her Australian Open championship with precision shotmaking that made short work of Silvija Talaja.

Capriati won 6-4, 6-1 in slightly more than an hour Tuesday. She finished by blasting a forehand serve return that rocked Talaja back on her heels. Then Capraiti put her away with an easy forehand.

After she reached three Grand Slam event semifinals as a 14- and 15-year-old in 1990 and 1991, Capriati had to overcome a string of personal problems before hard work brought her a first Grand Slam victory here last year. She went on to win the French Open and reach the semifinals at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.

In the first set, she staved off a game point with some fine running, angling a backhand volley one way and then dashing to the other side for a forehand crosscourt winner. Two points later, she had a break for 5-2.

On set point, she followed a good serve with a short, sharply angled forehand on the sideline.

In the second set, she broke for 2-1 with a forehand to one sideline and a backhand to the other, and never lost another game.

Pete Sampras, a winner of 13 Grand Slam titles, started with a 6-3, 6-3, 6-4 victory over Finland's Jarkko Nieminen.

Sampras let four match points slip away with Nieminen serving at 3-5 in the third set, but in the next game set up another with an ace and finished with a service winner.

In other women's matches, No. 6 Justine Henin, runner-up at Wimbledon last year and a semifinalist at the French Open, mixed her power with accurate lobs in beating Anna Kournikova 6-2, 7-5.

Kournikova, ranked as high as eighth last year, has slipped to No. 64 after missing 15 tournaments with a left foot stress fracture.

Russian compatriot Lina Krasnoroutskaya, the 1999 junior champion who gained a place in the seedings after Serena Williams pulled out with a turned ankle, sprained her own left ankle in a first-round match.

Krasnoroutskaya withdrew while trailing 3-6, 6-3, 2-0 against Conchita Martinez, the 1994 Wimbledon champion and runner-up in the 1998 Australian Open and 2000 French Open.

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