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Australian crown for Capriati

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MELBOURNE, Australia — Jennifer Capriati refused to wilt, pulling off her greatest comeback on the court where she rejuvenated her career.

Capriati fought off four match points in the second set and beat Martina Hingis 4-6, 7-6 (7), 6-2 Saturday to win her second consecutive Australian Open title.

"I really don't know how I won today," Capriati said. "I was struggling on the court today.

"I kept fighting on those match points I was down. I went for it. I don't know why I didn't play like that every point," she said.

Playing in 95-degree heat, the top-seeded Capriati fell behind 0-4 in the second set and cursed at the chair umpire. But Capriati then staved off three match points — at 3-5 and 5-6 — to force a tiebreaker.

She survived one more at 6-7 in the tiebreaker and finally took the set when Hingis hit a backhand wide. Hingis threw her racket after letting Capriati back into the match.

Capriati breezed in the final set. When it was over, she dropped her racket, ran over to touch hands with her father, Stefano, blew kisses and walked back on court, shaking her head in apparent disbelief.

"I couldn't believe finally that I won," she said. "Maybe I thought the third set would be a lot more difficult. I was cruising — it was because Martina didn't feel well. She was struggling.

"I don't know what's better — the first (title) or to come back from match point and win this," she said.

Capriati's victory in Melbourne last year capped a comeback from personal problems that turned a teenage prodigy into a tennis washout.

This 2-hour, 10-minute win contrasted with last year's final, when Capriati beat Hingis 6-4, 6-3.

This time, Hingis took big leads in the first two sets before weakening in the third. It was her third consecutive loss in an Australian Open final and her fifth in a major final since her last Grand Slam event triumph, at the 1999 Australian Open.

At the end, Hingis sat with her head bowed.

"Jennifer was just too good for me," she said at the trophy ceremony.

"I think I exceeded my expectations. I don't know whether to be happy or cry about it," she said. "Hopefully we'll have many more finals like this. I hope to have revenge sometime soon."

Capriati at one point took refuge in a tunnel entry and Hingis put an ice pack on her neck between points in the second-set tiebreaker. The players were allowed a 10-minute break after the second set.

Capriati earned $520,000 for her third title in her last five Grand Slam tournaments. She won the Australian and French Opens last year and reached the semifinals at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.

Capriati made it to the French Open semifinals as a 14-year-old in 1990 and beat Steffi Graf for the Olympic gold medal in 1992. But at 17, she dropped off the tour for 2 1/2 years following the 1993 U.S. Open.

At last year's trophy ceremony, Capriati told Hingis: "I hope to be in many more finals with you. You've had lots of times here, and I'm glad I finally got to be in one."

"I was lucky, believe me."

Defending champion Jennifer Capriati was to play three-time champion Martina Hingis in the women's final Saturday (Friday night EST).

Safin said his legs were dragging in the 95-degree heat against Haas before the rain delay.

"I couldn't do anything. I couldn't move," the Russian said. But when play resumed, Safin added, "I served well and I did the right things."

More 90-degree heat is forecast for Sunday, with a chance of rain.

"I hope it will rain again," Safin said.

He isn't worried that Johansson, who won his semifinal against Jiri Novak on Thursday night, had an extra day to rest.

Johansson, seeded 16th, had never advanced past the fourth round of a Grand Slam event until this one. "I'm a little bit of an underdog," he said, even before he knew who his final opponent would be.

Although Safin said the rain saved him, Haas was starting to feel fatigue in his legs, too. "I don't think the break helped me much," he said.

"When I came back out on court, I just kind of had to start over a little bit and he came out on fire. It just didn't go my way after that. I was hoping in the fifth set maybe to boost it up again a little bit mentally . . . but my legs were not there any more," said the 23-year-old German, who broke into the men's top 10 for the first time last year.

Safin's legs should have been fresher. He needed only 28 minutes to win his quarterfinal Wednesday when Wayne Ferreira pulled out with an abdominal strain. Haas played four sets to beat Marcelo Rios.

During the rain delay, which stretched the match to 4 hours, 28 minutes, Safin said he received advice from Amit Naor, a former player from Israel, and another friend. Coach Mats Wilander did not make the trip.

"They explained to me very simply what I have to do," he said. "I started to return the serve, to read it better. I did exactly what they said."

Coaching is banned while a player is on court, but there is no rule against getting advice in the locker room.

After beating Sampras to win the U.S. Open in 2000, Safin struggled early last year with injuries. He reached the quarterfinals at Wimbledon and the semifinals at the U.S. Open in 2001 before losing to Sampras.

In 19 previous Grand Slam tournaments, Haas had been past the fourth round only once, when he reached the Australian Open semifinals in 1999.

On the eve of her meeting with Capriati for the singles title, Hingis teamed with Anna Kournikova for a 6-2, 6-7 (4), 6-1 victory over Daniela Hantuchova and Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario for the doubles championship.