Sabatini finishes off Capriati, will meet old rival Graf in today's semifinals

WIMBLEDON, ENGLAND — WIMBLEDON, England -- Talk about anticlimax. If the Kentucky Derby is called the most exciting two minutes in sports, then the end of yesterday's Wimbledon quarterfinal between Gabriela Sabatini and Jennifer Capriati could be called the most predictable.






Game, set, match, Sabatini.

"It was almost the way it was the night before," Capriati said.

The night before was when Sabatini blitzed through the first set, dropped the second and was serving for the match at 5-3 when play was suspended. Capriati complained she couldn't see. Sabatini didn't seem to care.

So, they came out for five-minute warm-up and a two-minute game. A long backhand by Capriati was followed by a forehand into the net, a winning backhand volley by Sabatini and, on match point, a weak serve that Capriati put into the net.

"It was just one more game to finish, and I mean I was almost finished [when the match was stopped]," Sabatini said. The completion of her 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 victory means that Sabatini, the third seed, isn't finished yet at the All England Club. She will meet second seed and defending champion Steffi Graf in one semifinal after top seed Monica Seles plays nine-time champion Martina Navratilova in the first.

The winners are scheduled to meet Saturday for the championship.

"I feel I am very close [to winning Wimbledon], especially mentally," said Sabatini, 22. "I think this is the time to move, and I think I'm on the right way."

Though Graf has dominated their seven-year rivalry, winning 21 of the 32 matches they have played, Sabatini has won eight of the past nine. Graf's only victory was a tight, three-set classic in last year's Wimbledon final that went to 8-6 in the third.


"I think I have the game to beat her on grass," Sabatini said. "I was very close last year, and I'm just going to be very aggressive again and try to be very tough mentally. If you have the match there to win, you just have to finish."

Said Graf: "I mean it seems like she's been playing really well. She's been having an easy time so far. She's won every match very clear, and she's going to be in very good form. So, definitely, it's going to be a tough one."

Graf will have to do what Capriati couldn't: take advantage of Sabatini's biggest weakness, a weak second serve. But the shot that gave Capriati fits -- an undercut chip from the baseline -- could be troublesome for Graf as well.

"I think it [the key] will be a matter of returns," Graf said. "I think the serve is very important, but I think for both of us the return is going to be the big key."

The key to the Seles-Navratilova matchup could be whether the chair umpire allows the world's No. 1 female player to grunt as loudly, and as often, as she wants. It has been a running debate here at Wimbledon as to how much the grunts grate on Seles' opponents.

If Navratilova can tune Seles out, as well as bring her in to the net, then the 35-year-old fourth seed has a chance. If Seles can hug and baseline and blast away, then it could be another short match.


But Navratilova, who has won only two of their past eight matches after winning the first three, isn't giving away any pre-semi secrets.

"A coach won't tell you exactly what the strategy's going to be next week against the Washington Redskins," said Navratilova, looking to increase her Wimbledon singles titles to 10. "Obviously, she is good when she has time, so I'm going to try to rush her. But it's hard to rush somebody when they hit the ball 200 miles an hour."

Seles said: "I'll have to raise my game quite a few levels for Martina. I haven't played her in a while now. I've seen her play, and she's moving well and serving very well."

The matchups are certainly intriguing: Graf and Sabatini have displayed signs here last year that their rivalry could be heating up. In Seles and Navratilova, there is a player on the road to the Grand Slam who has won everything but Wimbledon, and one who has merely won everything.

No matter what happens, it shouldn't be anticlimactic.

After yesterday, nothing could be.


NOTES: In women's doubles, Navratilova and Pam Shriver advanced to the quarterfinals with a 6-1, 6-2 victory over 14th seeds Anke Huber and Claudia Kohde-Kilsch of Germany. Navratilova and Shriver, who have combined for five doubles titles here and are the fourth seeds this year, will meet fifth seeds Mary Jo Fernandez and Zina Garrison.