Champ Capriati falls in opener

MELBOURNE: Defending champion Jennifer Capriati was sent crashing out of the Australian Open here yesterday as the first Grand Slam event of the year started with a spectacular upset. 

Capriati was beaten in three sets by Germany’s Marlene Weingartner, the world number 90, losing a see-sawing encounter 2-6, 7-6 (8-6), 6-4 in one hour 49 minutes on the Rod Laver Arena. 

It was a sorry end for third seed Capriati, who while praising Weingartner’s performance, blamed her defeat on the eye surgery she had during the off-season. 

“My eyes felt okay but I would have to say that the recovery time was not enough,” said Capriati, who had been chasing an Australian Open hat-trick. 

PIN-UP GIRL: Anna Kournikova of Russia walks past a poster of herself after her first round match against Henrieta Nagyoga of Slovakia at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne yesterday.- Kournikova won 6-1, 6-2.-APpic

“I didn’t give myself enough time to prepare properly, and had I not been the defending champion I probably would not have showed up,” said Capriati, who was treated in November for a condition which gave her blurred vision. “I’m not trying to make excuses but I have to say that it affected my preparations for this tournament.” 

Weingartner, 23, was ecstatic after securing the biggest win of her career. 

“It took a few minutes to realise that I’d won. I’ve worked so hard for the last couple of months, I just went out there and went for it,” said the German. 

Capriati looked to be cruising into the second round after racing away with the first set against her nervous-looking opponent. 

But inexplicably Capriati’s game went to pieces in the second set, when leading by a break, her forehand superiority deserted her. 

“She played well, hit some great shots. Physically, I felt a bit tired,” Capriati said. “But she got on a roll and I felt the momentum swing her way. Mentally and physically I just wasn't good enough.” 

While Capriati was left to lick her wounds there were no such problems for the other leading contenders yesterday. 

Venus Williams shook out the rust from a few months off and Andre Agassi fired a warning shot to Lleyton Hewitt as the rest of the first round followed the form book. 

Second-seed Williams fought back from 3-0 down in the first set before overwhelming Russia’s Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-4, 6-2 on the Rod Laver Arena.  

“I think I’m doing well,” the second-seeded American said. “I just think that I’m just a little rusty going out there.” 

Agassi, meanwhile, indicated that he is going to cause problems for top seed Hewitt, aiming to become the first Australian to win in Melbourne since Mark Edmondson in 1976. 

Looking lean and sharp, and with wife Steffi Graf watching in the stands, second seed Agassi disposed of American compatriot Brian Vahaly with a minimum of fuss, winning 7-5, 6-3, 6-3. 

“I felt nervous going out there today, it’s been a bit longer than I would have liked,” said Agassi. “My focus is not so much being ranked No. 1, but finishing No. 1 at the end of a Grand Slam tournament.” 

In the women’s singles, hard-hitting Belgian Justin Henin-Hardenne, seeded five, overcame Switzerland’s Myriam Casanova 6-3, 6-4. 

Glamour-girl Anna Kournikova, meanwhile, snapped a sequence of four first round losses in her four last Grand Slams to reach the second round. The Russian was never challenged on her way to a 6-1, 6-2 win over Slovakia’s Henrieta Nagyova. She now faces Henin-Hardenne in the second round tomorrow. – AFP 

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