Jennifer Capriati survived perhaps the toughest test of her young career today to advance to the fourth round at Wimbledon.
Capriati, the 14-year-old who seems to set records for youthful triumph whenever she steps on a court, blew five match points but rebounded from a second-set marathon to win the final six games and beat Robin White 7-5, 6-7, 6-3.It left the 12th seeded Floridian 4-1 in three-set matches since she turned pro in March, but also with some doubts mixed with homesickness.
"I was thinking that it was good that I was able to pull that out," Capriati said. "But I was upset, saying, `Why aren't you closing these matches out?"'
Next for Capriati comes top-ranked Steffi Graf,who was playing Claudia Kohde-Kilsch later in the day.
Third-seeded Monica Seles won more easily, beating Anne Minter of Australia 6-3, 6-3 on Centre Court. Fifth-seeded Zina Garrison also won in straight sets, 6-0, 6-3 over Andrea Leand of the United States.
Other early winners on the fifth day included women's 10th seed Helena Sukova and 13th seed Jana Novotna of Czechoslovakia. Eliminated was Derrick Rostagno, the American who knocked John McEnroe out in the first round.
White, a 26-year-old Californian ranked 59th in the world, gave it everything she had but Capriati had more. She continually displayed the ability to come back when it seemed as if the older American with the Statue of Liberty on her shirt would end the Grand Slam hopes of the latest tennis whiz kid.
In the first set, Capriati came back from 2-0 to win, breaking back in the eighth game and again in the 12th. She blew two break points for the set in the 10th game.
White started the second set with a break, too, and was up 4-1 when Capriati started to roll. She won four games in a row and had match points at 30-40 and ad-out in the 10th, but White saved both on netted backhands. She forced the tie-breaker on her second game point in the 12th and won the break 7-1 to even the match.
White started strongly again in the final set, going up 2-0. Then came the pivotal game.
Exchanging winners from the baseline and net, pounding big serves and chasing them down, Capriati and White battled for 18 minutes, through 32 points, in Game 3. Capriati had five break points but lost then all on errors. White needed nine game points to finally take a 3-0 lead on a long backhand.
"I shouldn't even have been down 0-3. Ishould have been in the locker room by that time," Capriati said.
For White, it was a hollow victory. Capriati came out from the changeover charged up, and White had no response.
"It took everything I had left, without a doubt," White said of the third game. "Even though mentally you don't think it does, because it fires you up, to be 3-0 up, physically it does."
Capriati held for 3-1, broke on a forehand down the line for 3-2, held for 3-3 and broke for 4-3 on a netted volley. By now, Capriati was talking to herself, "Yes, I want it, I want it," as she came out from the change.
She held for 5-3 on a backhand winner and - after White won the first two points - went up 30-40 on three errors. There was then a mini-replay of Game 3, with Capriati three times netting service returns that would have wrapped up the match. Finally, after a forehand into the corner gave her a sixth chance, Capriati won on a backhand service return that the diving White barely touched as she rushed the net.