Two-time defending champ Capriati stunned in first round
Published: Tuesday, January 14, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 13, 2003 at 11:46 p.m.
MELBOURNE, Australia - For two weeks, Jennifer Capriati stayed out of sunlight, recovering from surgery to her eyes.
AT A GLANCE: The Australian Open
No. 21 Andrei Pavel and No. 26 Tommy Robredo lost.
Women's singles, No. 2 Venus Williams, No. 5 Justine Henin-Hardenne, No. 7 Daniela Hantuchova, No. 9 Lindsay Davenport, No. 12 Patty Schnyder, No. 13 Silvia Farina Elia, No. 15 Alexandra Stevenson, No. 21 Ai Sugiyama, No. 23 Paola Suarez, No. 24 Tatiana Panova, No. 27 Lisa Raymond, No. 30 Janette Husarova and No. 32 Katarina Srebotnik advanced.
No. 3 Jennifer Capriati and No. 31 Conchita Martinez lost.
She even considered skipping the Australian Open but felt an obligation to play as the two-time defending champion.
Capriati certainly didn't look like a Grand Slam winner Monday, her game simply collapsing midway through a first-round 2-6, 7-6 (6), 6-4 loss to 90th-ranked Marlene Weingartner of Germany.
No defending women's champion had lost in the first round of this Grand Slam tournament in the Open era.
``I'm not trying to make excuses, that's for sure,'' Capriati said. ``But I have to say it had a lot to do with my preparation for coming here.''
Capriati figures she still needs up to a month to get back in shape after the operation. ``Probably, if I wasn't the defending champion, I wouldn't have shown up,'' she said.
Capriati struggled with her serve but opened a 6-2, 4-2 lead. Then Weingartner began finding the range.
``She was just hitting some great shots,'' Capriati said. ``I just felt the momentum swing, and mentally and physically I wasn't strong enough.''
Weingartner reached match point with a forehand serve return down the line. She then hit deep to the corner, and Capriati sent the ball into the net.
``I think I deserved it,'' Weingartner said. ``I played really well, and I just went for it.''
Weingartner was playing her first match on center court in a Grand Slam tournament.
``I really like this atmosphere,'' she said. ``But I just needed a little bit of time to get into it.''
Capriati's eye condition is known as pterygiums, a growth on the cornea caused by exposure to the sun.
``I couldn't see properly, and I guess they were getting worse,'' she said.
In other matches, Kim Clijsters, who beat both Williams sisters two months ago, surged into the Australian Open's second round with a 6-2, 6-1 victory over American Samantha Reeves on Tuesday.
Clijsters needed just 62 minutes to win with her heavy groundstrokes, ending when Reeves hit a serve return into the net.
In other women's matches, No. 10 Chanda Rubin overcame Hungarian Melinda Czink 6-4, 7-5; Mary Pierce, winner of the 1995 Australian Open and 2000 French, beat Austria's Patricia Wartusch 6-1, 6-4, and American Amy Frazier, playing in her 56th Grand Slam tournament, needed only 43 minutes to oust Spain's Conchita Martinez Granados.
On the men's side, Wimbledon runner-up David Nalbandian moved quickly into the second round when France's Jerome Golmard quit after three sets with a back injury.
Nalbandian led 3-6, 6-3, 6-1 before the withdrawal by Golmard, who also hurt his back in a tournament in India at the end of last year.
No. 13 Fernando Gonzalez, who moved up 117 places in the rankings last year, advanced with a 6-2, 3-6, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory over France's Julien Varlet.
The last defending men's champion to lose in the first round at the Australian Open was Boris Becker in 1997. Andre Agassi, the 1995, 2000 and 2001 champion, didn't even get to the first round last year. He went home with a wrist injury from a tuneup event.
This time, Agassi scored a 7-5, 6-3, 6-3 victory over Brian Vahaly, a former All-American at Virginia.
``It has, unfortunately, been a lot longer than I wish it was. It was good to get out there again,'' Agassi said.
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