Justine Henin def Jennifer Capriati 4-6 7-5 7-6 Semifinals 9/5/03
A year before the Jennifer Capriati/Serena Williams match described previously, Capriati made it to the US Open semis for the first time since 1991. The 2003 US Open was one of the rainiest in history- in fact I recall spending much of that Labor Day weekend sitting under the overhang in Ashe stadium staring at a rain-drenched court. Random memory- Roger Federer actually came out on the court during the rain delay and hit some balls into the limited crowd that was sitting there. He had just won his 1st Wimbledon title but he had nowhere near the level of recognition as today. Looking back now, I really wish I had caught one of those balls!
Anyway, due to all the rain delays the women’s semifinals were postponed to Friday night. It worked out great for me because I could get to see Capriati’s match without having to take the day off work. Apparently it was also ideal scheduling for Beyonce and Jay-Z since they were at the match too!
The match started off well, with Capriati winning the first set 6-4. One more set, I thought to myself and soon Capriati had a lead in the 2nd set 5 games to 2. She had two opportunities to serve for the match and 10 times was just two points away from the victory. Somehow Henin fought back and took the set 7-5. Despite the gut-wrenching agony in watching all these missed opportunities for Capriati, I reminded myself that the match wasn’t over and they would play a third set.
This match turned into a war of attrition. According to Sports Illustrated, Capriati and Henin played “a thrill-a-minute match of ‘Can you top this?’ filled with brilliant shot-making and a tournament's worth of theatrics.” It went to a third set tie-break, the most nerve-wracking situation for tennis fans. It felt like a repeat of Capriati’s ’91 match against Seles (which appears later on this countdown and was 12 years earlier almost to the day). I thought this cannot be happening twice- she has to win this time. Unfortunately, it was not to be and even though Capriati was just two points away for the 11th time, Henin won the tie-break, the set and the match at 12:27 am the next morning. They had played over 3 hours with each woman winning exactly 127 points. As Capriati put it in her interview, "When I came off the court, I felt the whole world was coming down on me, and that my heart was being ripped out. It hurts." Yep, that pretty much summed it up.
Less than 24 hours after this intense physical match, Henin beat Clijsters in the Final, 7-5 6-1. It was Henin’s first and only US Open trophy.