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Rafter Falls, Capriati Wins!

Some victories are measured by scores, some are commemorated with trophies, and some, like Jennifer Capriati's, can be seen merely by watching a player perform with passion again.

Capriati expressed that passion with every panting breath in lung-searing, 90-degree heat at the French Open on Saturday, reaching the round-of-16 in a Grand Slam event for the first time since 1993.

Capriati pounded Silvia Farina into submission the Italian called it quits, blaming a leg injury, while losing 6-2, 4-0 and extended to eight her longest winning streak in six years.

On a day when the men's No. 3 Patrick Rafter lost 6-4, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 to Spain's unseeded Fernando Meligeni to follow the early exits of No. 1 Yevgeny Kafelnikov and No. 2 Pete Sampras, Capriati's victory captivated the crowd with a sense of nostalgia and triumph.

Though Capriati is coming off her first tournament title on clay at Strasbourg since Sydney in 1993, she remains a longshot to win the French and may not get past the next round against No. 2 Lindsay Davenport. But anyone who remembers the joy of her early days and the troubles of her late teen years can take pleasure in seeing her transformation.

The chronicle of Jennifer Capriati is no longer simply the sad story of a precocious teen-ager, driven by her father and packaged by her sponsors, who rebels and sinks into a self-destructive lifestyle.

It is the story now of a young woman who grabbed control of herself, who rejected drugs and other people's dreams, and pursued a tennis career on her own terms.

"I wouldn't say I have it, like, all together now," she said. "I don't have it figured out. It's not perfect for me. I don't think it ever is perfect for anybody. I'm just doing the best I can and always making sure that I am happy and that everything's OK with me and my family, the people that I love. I'll be happy as long as I'm a good person."

At 23, Capriati smiles easily once again and projects a lightness of being that had been missing for so long.

Gone are the black fingernail polish and black lipstick, and the slender silver nose ring she wore in the infamous police mug shot taken after her 1994 arrest for drug possession in a seedy Florida motel. Her mood now is expressed in the silver-blue polish she favors these days, the conservative pearl necklace, silver bracelets and diamond ring.

On the court, Capriati is once again capable of driving hard, deep groundstrokes into the corners with consistency, as she did against Farina. And if Capriati is still a little thick around the middle and slow afoot, she makes up for that with a grim determination to go all-out for every shot possible.

Sometimes, sheer desire makes up for a lack of speed.

Capriati reached the quarterfinals of the French Open in 1993, three years after she became at 14 years, 2 months the youngest semifinalist in the tournament's history.

She dropped off the circuit in 1994 and 1995, going through drug rehab and counseling, and in the ensuing years she tried several comebacks. In the past three years, she's played only seven Grand Slam tournaments, never advancing beyond the second round.

"The whole time has really been just like one big comeback," she said, "trying to get to the point where I can say that, yeah, I'm back."

At the Lipton this year, she shook hands on an agreement with former pro Harold Solomon to be her coach. She said he's helped give her more confidence on the court, a sense of stability and strategy.

"Just the fact that I've got a coach helps me mentally," she said. "Knowing that I have done something. Like I deserve to be playing well and I've put the work and have structure. I feel professional again."

She rightfully took pride in reaching the fourth round here, even if others might think only titles matter.

"In the near future, my ambitions are maybe going to get higher, stronger," she said. "Right now, I'm just thinking about the first few rounds. This is quite an accomplishment for me, just being in the round of 16."

If Capriati can keep it up she may be a threat to Davenport, who escaped with a 7-6 (5), 6-3 victory over Columbia's Fabiola Zuluaga.

Davenport sighed in relief at a lucky net cord on a shot by Zuluaga at 5-5 in the tiebreaker that helped her turn around the match.

"It popped up for me," Davenport said. "That gave me the set point. Then she gave me a double-fault to end the set, so I'll take it."

"It was tough going out there. I knew that she was a very good player, especially on clay. And she started rocketing balls, not nervous at all, going for her shots. I was down 3-love in just six minutes."

Davenport managed to hold, then broke Zuluaga at 5-3 when she was serving for the set.

"She let me back into the first set," Davenport said. "She had a few set points at 5-4 I was able to save, and then I won the tiebreaker."

With Zuluaga dispirited by that loss, Davenport cruised through the second set.

Five-time French Open champion Steffi Graf and three-time champ Monica Seles stayed on course for a semifinal showdown.

Graf, seeded No. 6, beat Sweden's Asa Carlsson 6-1, 6-4 to reach the round of 16, while Seles, No. 3, downed Spain's Maria Antonia Sanchez-Lorenzo by the same score.

Graf next faces Anna Kournikova, who looked in top form in a 6-1, 3-6, 6-0 victory over 11th-seeded Patty Schnyder.

Seles, who reached the finals last year only three weeks after her father's death but lost to Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario, next meets No. 16 Julie Halard Decugis of France, who defeated Cristina Torrens-Valero of Spain, 7-5, 4-6, 6-4.

In other men's play, 1997 champion Gustavo Kuerten, seeded No. 8, beat Sjeng Schalken 6-2, 6-4, 6-3; No. 6 Alex Corretja downed Gastn Gaudio 6-4, 6-3, 6-3; No. 14 Felix Mantilla beat Tommy Haas 7-6 (3), 6-1, 6-4.

©1999 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

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