Capriati gives herself a birthday treat

KEY BISCAYNE MARCH 29. Jennifer Capriati turned 26 at midnight, and 17 minutes later she closed out one of the most gruelling victories in her career. Top-seeded Capriati overcame two match points to beat No. 5 Monica Seles 4-6, 6-3, 7-6(4) in the semifinals of the Nasdaq-100 Open here on Thursday.

In the final on Saturday, she'll play the eighth seed Serena Williams, who advanced with a breakthrough victory over older sister Venus, 6-2, 6-2.

Hewitt beats Safin

Top-seeded Lleyton Hewitt will face No. 12 Roger Federer in the men's semifinals. The Aussie progressed by beating the sixth-seeded Russian Marat Safin 2-6, 6-2, 7-6(4) in 2 hours, 44 minutes.

"He won by three points,'' Safin said. "It's really sad, but that's life.'' Federer had earlier beaten Andrei Pavel 6-1, 6-1. The other semifinal pits ninth seed Andre Agassi against 1998 champion Marcelo Rios.

Both women's finalists have advanced this far at Key Biscayne once before — Serena in 1999 and Capriati in 2001. Both then lost to Venus. Serena, who says her goal is the No. 1 ranking, will be facing the woman she's trying to supplant.

Serena achieved her highest ranking of No. 4 in 1999 after winning the U.S. Open, her lone Grand Slam title. She's No. 9 now and needs to win a few more titles to make the climb to No. 1.

"That's my goal,'' she said. "That's where I want to be — the top spot. And if I feel I can't do it, then I won't be giving any more interviews because I won't be on the Tour anymore.''

Regardless of Saturday's outcome, Capriati is assured of retaining the No. 1 ranking until at least April 15, ahead of No. 2 Venus.

In the sibling clash, Serena advanced by beating Venus for only the second time in their seven meetings. Her other victory came in the 1999 Grand Slam Cup, which she considered an exhibition. "This is a big milestone for me and for all younger sisters and brothers out there,'' she said, laughing. "It definitely removed a mental block for me.''

Serena called her victory in the semifinal "the biggest win of her career." Perhaps that's an overstatement, given that Serena won the U.S. Open in 1999. Or perhaps not. "I'm shaking a little,'' she said moments after the victory, which took her just 50 minutes. "I can't believe I finally beat her. I'm like in shock.''

While there was no doubting Serena's motivation, Venus' performance was so listless that the crowd booed her briefly in the second set. Venus said she felt fine and merely had a bad day against a hot opponent.

Bhupathi-MacPhie out

The pair of India's Mahesh Bhupathi and Brian MacPhie of U.S. crashed out of the men's doubles, losing to second-seeded Mark Knowles of Bahamas and Daniel Nestor of Canada in the quarterfinals. The seventh seeded Indo-US combine was defeated in straight sets 6-4, 6-4.

In another quarterfinal, the Spanish duo of Alex Corretja and Alberto Martin defeated Joshua Eagle and Sandon Stolle of Australia 6-4, 6-4. — AP

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