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Jennifer Capriati stumbled in her comeback today with a tearful early exit in the Australian Open, the tournament where her life started skidding downhill four years ago.

No. 4 Martina Hingis, at 16 the same age Capriati was in her last visit Down Under, overcame a display of temper on her way to winning a first-round match, but gave an upbeat assessment: "I'm still young. I still have time to get higher and higher."Pete Sampras, the 1994 Australian Open champion and top-seeded this year, spent only an hour, 40 minutes in the 90-degree heat as he posted a 6-2, 6-4, 6-2 victory over Romanian qualifier Dinu Pescariu.

No. 11 seed Jim Courier, the 1992 and 1993 winner, let a 5-2 lead slip away in the final set before prevailing 6-7 (7-4), 6-3, 4-6, 6-1, 8-6 over Sjeng Schalken of the Netherlands.

No. 3 Goran Ivanisevic, still seeking his first Grand Slam tournament title, beat Australia's Ben Ellwood 6-2, 7-5, 6-3.

Capriati reached the final of the Sydney International last week and looked as if she had put her personal problems, including an arrest for shoplifting and drug and alcohol rehabilitation, behind her.

But, nervous and tentative, she committed 69 unforced errors and lost her serve five straight times in the first two sets on her way to a 6-2, 3-6, 6-4 loss to Jolene Watanabe, a fellow American who is ranked 78th in the world. Capriati, No. 24, saved two match points on Watanabe's serve in the final game before bowing out with a netted backhand.

She broke down in tears after the match and again soon afterward when asked whether she was aware of the hopes and support of her fans.

"Yeah, just being out there, I heard the cries . . .," she said as tears welled in her eyes. With a forlorn look on her face, she rubbed the tears away with her hand for a moment, but couldn't go on.

Just before that, the 20-year-old had said, "I'm not going to let this discourage me, let this get me down, let me think to myself that I can't really play any more, or think `What's happening?' or whatever. I'll just try to think positive still and go for the next one."

That wasn't the case in 1993 when she left crying after a quarterfinal loss.

Watanabe sent a series of lobs and topspin shots up into the whipping winds and waited for Capriati to miss.

"It was the perfect opportunity to beat her after her big wins last week," Watanabe said. "She may be a little tired physically and mentally. The conditions definitely favored me with the wind.

"Everyone loses. And if she lets it bother her, she's doomed."

Hingis, however, stated firmly that "you never want to lose to a lower-ranked player at a Grand Slam tournament."

A fit of annoyance cost Hingis four straight games and a warning for throwing her racket in the second set before she recovered for a 6-1, 7-5 victory over German Barbara Rittner.

"I lost concentration a little bit," Hingis said. "I am very happy I found it again."

The Swiss teen, her sights set on No. 1, coasted through the first set and broke Rittner to start the second.

But then as she chased Rittner around the court in the next game, the German stretched wide and flipped a backhand crosscourt passing shot by Hingis. Hingis slipped into a series of errors, including two missed overheads, and found herself trailing 4-1.

"She made just a great passing shot. I thought I had this point already. . . . Somehow I lost a little bit of concentration," Hingis said.

Then it was Hingis' turn to win four straight games. Rittner broke to tie 5-5 and, trailing 6-5, led 40-0 before falling to some tough shots by Hingis.

"If she keeps going like this, I think she could be No. 1 in a couple of years," Rittner said.

Rittner said Hingis plays as if she had the experience of a 24-year-old, and the racket-throwing "is the only point where you can really see she's still 16."

Hingis acknowledged with a grin that "it was my goal not to get a warning this year," but succeeded for only one tournament, in Sydney last week when she beat Capriati in the final.

Hingis has been advised not to show her emotions on court, but "I think the people like me as I am out on the court. I can smile, I can throw my racket, but that's just my personality."

She smiled, too, over her new $10 million sponsorship contract.

"I know I have a lot of money, but it just started a half-year ago when I started playing as well as I am now," she said. "I think I'm allowed to get this money."

Another Swiss player, Patty Schnyder, upset No. 6 seed Iva Majoli of Croatia 7-5, 6-1.

No. 2 Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, a 1994 and 1995 finalist in the Australian, squeezed out a 6-4, 6-4 victory over Italy's Gloria Pizzichini.

Last year's women's runner-up, fifth-seeded Anke Huber, struggled to a 0-6, 6-2, 7-5 victory over Amy Frazier.

No. 7 Lindsay Davenport beat France's Nathalie Dechy 4-6, 6-1, 6-1; No. 8 Irina Spirlea ousted Japan's Naoko Kijimuta 6-2, 6-4; No. 9 Karina Habsudova beat Croatia's Silvija Talaja 6-1, 6-2; No. 14 Mary Joe Fernandez beat Laura Golarsa of Italy 6-2, 4-6, 6-2, and No. 15 Chanda Rubin defeated Slovakia's Radka Zrubakova 7-6 (7-2), 6-3.

Men's seeds who advanced also included No. 8 Wayne Ferreira, a 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 winner over Spain's Carlos Costa; No. 9 Marcelo Rios, a 7-6 (7-4), 6-3, 6-3 winner over Czech Petr Korda, and Alberto Berasategui, who beat Australian Todd Larkham 6-1, 6-2, 6-4.

Norway's Christian Ruud outlasted No. 13 seed Jan Siemerink 3-6, 4-6, 7-5, 6-2, 10-8 in 4 hours.