NEW YORK - Jennifer Capriati wanted her quarterfinal match so much, she lost it.
The No. 3 seed, one of a handful of players who are viewed as possible challengers to the Serena and Venus Williams domination of women's tennis, felt the weight of desire, the expectations of past success and the pressure of opportunity bearing down on her - all at once.
When she had the chance to serve out the second set and claim the match against Amelie Mauresmo in Arthur Ashe Stadium yesterday afternoon, Capriati tightened up and wound up losing, 4-6, 7-6 (5), 6-3.
Mauresmo advanced to the U.S. Open semifinals where she will meet No. 2 Venus Williams tomorrow.
Williams advanced by dominating No. 6 Monica Seles, closing out a 6-2, 6-3 victory in 57 minutes.
"She was just better at everything than I was tonight," said Seles, who created only one break point and failed to claim it. "She's one of the toughest players for me to play. Her serve was just too big for me to return."
Playing Williams will be a major challenge for No. 10 Mauresmo, who has never beaten Williams. Her most recent losses to the two-time defending U.S. Open champion came earlier this year in Paris and Antwerp, Belgium, in back-to-back tournament semifinals.
"That's a match I shouldn't have lost," said Capriati, who has not won a tournament since the Australian Open in January. "When I was serving for it, I just felt like all of a sudden, I just got really nervous and really tight.
"I think it's probably just a lot of expectations, pressure that I put on myself. It just came through. ... "
Across the net, Mauresmo felt tired from her fourth-round match the night before. She felt the heat of the afternoon sun. She felt breathless at times and tried to slow the match between points so she could recover.
She had no idea Capriati was fighting mental demons, because she was fighting her own.
"Down 6-5, with Jennifer serving, I did not feel so well," said the Frenchwoman. "At some point, I thought, 'OK, it's not my day. I'm gonna go back home tonight.' That's not because I think I am not going to fight.
"I know I have to hang in there even though [I'm] thinking maybe it's the last game. You try to hang in, do your best. That's what I did, and it worked out pretty well."
It did. She broke back in that 6-5 game and then settled down to win the tiebreaker with a beautiful backhand volley.
The situation made Capriati even more nervous. Certainly she has been in her share of big matches and overcome adversity time and again on and off the court. Her resurgence from failed child star to the world's No. 1 player is well-documented.
But it has been eight months since her last Grand Slam victory or any victory. And when Mauresmo showed she wasn't going to go away, Capriati began to become fearful.
"With age, you become more aware, for sure, of what's going on and, yeah, you think about things more than when you're at [a younger] age," said Capriati, 26. "I think it comes in, but, I think, the wisdom part should also help you overcome it, too.
"It's very frustrating because you try to do everything you can to relax out there. I don't think it should be live or die and it's like, 'You have to win.' And even if the opponent plays well, like Mauresmo did, I should win."
Mauresmo is known for her good backhand, her footwork and her conditioning. All three let her down at times yesterday, and still she won to move into her second Grand Slam semifinal of the year and her first here at the Open, where a Frenchwoman has never won the title.
She broke Capriati in the third game of the final set and made the break stand up until the ninth game when Capriati was serving to stay in the match at 3-5. Mauresmo pushed Capriati in the game and she double-faulted twice to give Maur- esmo two of her five match-point chances, including the last one that Mauresmo finally cashed in when Capriati sent a final, desperate forehand long.
At that point, Mauresmo pounded her right fist three times over her heart.
"It feels so great inside," she said. "I think to myself, I have different way now to win a match. [I can] either go to the net and be aggressive and dictate the game, or, if that doesn't work [or] maybe physically I don't feel good enough, I can still, you know, hang in there and really make the opponent play one more shot each time. That's what I did today."