Serena Williams trailed in the first set, and again in the second, and once more in the tiebreaker, confronting seven set points along the way.
Yet at the end it was Williams hopping to the net with glee, index finger aloft.
She's not No. 1, but she beat No. 1 on Saturday, rallying repeatedly to edge Jennifer Capriati 7-5, 7-6 (4) for the Nasdaq-100 Open championship.
Williams, seeded eighth, won her first Key Biscayne title by beating the world's top three players in consecutive matches. She eliminated No. 3 Martina Hingis in the quarterfinals, then advanced to the final with a breakthrough victory over her older sister, three-time champion Venus Williams.
"Since I had beaten Venus, I felt it was my duty to take this title, because Venus would have taken it herself, I believe," Williams said.
Capriati has never won a tournament in her native state, and for the second consecutive year at Key Biscayne, she could only lament missed opportunities. Last year she failed to convert eight match points and lost in the final to Venus Williams.
"It's a little disappointing," Capriati said. "I feel like I was kind of ahead and pretty much in control the whole match."
Her consolation was a $200,000 check. Williams received $385,000.
On the men's side, Andre Agassi bids for his fifth Key Biscayne title Sunday against 20-year-old Roger Federer of Switzerland, playing in his first Tennis Master Series final.
Capriati and Williams engaged in two hours of high-risk tennis, their furious swings producing moments of brilliance among a flurry of errors. Capriati had 38, Williams 59.
"How many errors did I make — 59?" Williams said. "That is unbelievable. That's way too high. That's sloppy."
Many of her mistakes came on easy potential putaways as she moved toward the net.
"That's the hardest part about playing her — you just never know what's going to happen," Capriati said. "It's a little difficult to get a rhythm."
Williams hit a little harder — nine aces to none for Capriati — and moved a little faster. The midday sun and 86-degree heat may have taken a toll on Capriati 36 hours after she beat Monica Seles in a grueling semifinal that extended past midnight.
"It's been a tough battle all week, tough with the schedule," Capriati said. "I was giving it all I had. I'm not sure how much I had to give."
Her biggest problem was a tentative second serve. Williams feasted on it, and five times Capriati double-faulted, with each coming at a critical moment.
But while the play was erratic, the slugfest was always close, and Capriati was usually ahead. She led 5-4 in the first set, 5-3 in the second and 3-1 in the tiebreaker. She had two set points at 5-3 in the second set, and five more serving at 6-5, but Williams won them all.
"Maybe it could have been me who won in two sets, you know?" Capriati said. "But it was really close, and she played really well on the important points. It's not like I gave it away. I mean, she really earned it."
Williams erased the first two set points with service winners, overcame two more with thunderous strokes from the baseline and solved the fifth with an overhead slam.
By then Capriati's frustration was visible, her complexion rivaling her red outfit. When she double-faulted into the net to squander a sixth set-point chance, she pounded the hardcourt with her racket as though killing a snake.
Venting didn't help. Capriati sailed a lob long on set point No. 7, and Williams then closed a 22-game with an overhead to reach 6-6. Capriati let the tiebreaker slip away by committing errors on five of the final seven points, including a backhand that landed long on match point.
That gave Williams her third win in a row over Capriati, all in finals, including at Scottsdale, Ariz., earlier this month. The rivalry now stands 4-4.
Despite the defeat, Capriati will retain the No. 1 ranking until at least April 15, ahead of No. 2 Venus Williams. Serena Williams will climb from ninth to seventh next week.
by The Associated Press