Defending champ Capriati dumped Down Under
By John Pye, The Associated Press
MELBOURNE, Australia — Jennifer Capriati became the first defending women's champion in the Open era to lose in the first round of the Australian Open, tumbling out of the Grand Slam event Monday with a shocking loss to Marlene Weingartner.
Capriati, who won her first Grand Slam championship at Melbourne Park in 2001 and successfully defended the title last year, won the first set 6-2 and led 4-2 in the second.
But her German rival, ranked No. 98 at the end of 2002, rallied to take the second set 7-6 (8-6) and the third 6-4, with Capriati dumping a forehand into the net on match point.
"I felt I was getting a bit tired and she got on a roll. ... I felt the momentum swing," Capriati said. "Mentally and physically I wasn't strong enough, I guess." The 26-year-old American said an operation to remove sun spots from both eyes in early November had limited her preparation. She lost in the second round in Sydney last week.
"I think (the eyes) are OK now," she said. "It's basically now trying to get back to feeling normal again.
"I had stitches in both eyes. For two weeks, basically, I was in the dark because I couldn't be in sunlight — my eyes were too sensitive. I'm not trying to make excuses, that's for sure, but it had a lot to do with my preparation."
She had 10 double faults and 41 errors, while Weingartner had five double faults and 52 unforced errors.
Second-seeded Venus Williams looked rusty, but advanced to the second round, beating Russia's Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-4, 6-2.
Andre Agassi was as polished as he's been in the years he's won the Australian Open, advancing with a no-frills 7-5, 6-3, 6-3 victory over fellow American Brian Vahaly.
The 32-year-old Agassi warmed up for the season-opening major by winning an exhibition tournament at Kooyong, the event where he injured his wrist last year in losing the final to Pete Sampras.
The wrist problem sidelined him for the Australian Open, preventing his title defense. But the two previous years, he won at Kooyong and went on to win at Melbourne Park.
"It did feel real good," Agassi said. "I even felt a bit nervous going out there because it's, unfortunately, been a lot longer than I wish it was."
Williams muddled around in her first few games, as though she was back at work after a long vacation.
After ending the match with an angled forehand volley on her fourth match point, she flashed a relieved smile and did a little pirouette, looking more as if she'd reached the second week of a Grand Slam than the second round.
She fell behind 0-3 because of some erratic shots, relying on a stronger serve to carry her against the 45th-ranked Kuznetsova. She and the 17-year-old Russian were nearly even in errors.
"I'm just a little rusty," Williams said. "I didn't expect to be 100% in this match, but in the next one I expect to be at least 150."
Venus hadn't played since limping out of her WTA Championships semifinal while trailing 5-0 against Kim Clijsters in November.
Williams' sister, Serena, will open on center court Tuesday against Emilie Loit of France. Serena is seeking a fourth consecutive major to compete her "Serena Slam," in which she would hold all four Grand Slam titles at once.
Serena missed a chance for a true Grand Slam — all four majors in one calendar year — when she twisted her ankle in a warmup tournament and missed last year's Australian Open. She went on to beat Venus in the finals of the French and U.S. Opens and Wimbledon.
Asked about beating Serena this time, Venus said, "I wouldn't exactly say that's my goal. My goal is to be my best. I guess if Serena wins a slam, then I'll be there congratulating her."
The sisters, on opposite sides of the draw, can only meet in the final.
With organizers promoting the season-opening major as the Grand Slam of the Asia-Pacific, the first match on center court featured rising Thai star Paradorn Srichaphan. The 11th-seeded Paradorn beat Austrian Jurgen Melzer 7-5, 6-4, 1-6, 6-0.
"It's really special for me to play the first match on Monday, to open a Grand Slam, and I appreciate it," said Paradorn, who improved his ranking by 110 places to No. 16 in 2002.
Spain's Juan Carlos Ferrero, seeded fourth, beat Argentina's Franco Squillari 7-6 (7-5), 3-6, 6-2, 6-3, and No. 5 Carlos Moya defeated Belgium's Dick Norman 7-5, 6-3, 6-4.
Russian Yevgeny Kafelnikov, the 1999 winner, outlasted Jeff Morrison 7-6 (7-5), 6-3, 4-6, 6-3.
Top-ranked Lleyton Hewitt begins play Tuesday against Swedish qualifier Magnus Larsson.
In women's play, 2000 champion Lindsay Davenport, seeded ninth a year after knee surgery, beat France's Camille Pin 6-2, 6-1.
Anna Kournikova, winless in Grand Slam singles play in two years, thrashed Slovakia's Henrieta Nagyova 6-1, 6-2 to earn a second-round match against fifth-seeded Justine Henin-Hardenne.
The Belgian, who beat Kournikova in the first round 12 months ago, opened with a 6-3, 6-4 victory over 17-year-old Swiss player Myriam Casanova.