MIAMI (Reuters) – World number one and top seed Jennifer Capriati survived a punishing baseline battle with Monica Seles Thursday to claim a thrilling 4-6 6-3 7-6 win and a place in the final of the Nasdaq-100 Open Masters against Serena Williams.
Earlier Williams claimed a rare win over big sister Venus booking her spot in the final with a ruthless 6-2 6-2 victory over the Wimbledon champion.
The final will mark the second time in as many tournaments that Williams will play Capriati for a title having beaten the Australian Open champion in Scottsdale three weeks ago.
As she has done in much of the tournament, Capriati struggled early on to find her rhythm as fifth seed Seles, who became the youngest ever Miami Masters champion when she lifted the title as a 16-year-old in 1990, looked poised to make a return to the final after winning the first set.
But Capriati, playing in front of her hometown crowd, stormed back to take the second.
With the match approaching midnight, the two players appeared prepared to slug it out until dawn, matching shot for punishing shot from the baseline.
With neither Seles nor Capriati able to find the break, the third set went to a tiebreak, which the world number one took 7-4.
“It was a thriller for us and the crowd, we gave it all we got and some of our best tennis came out,” said Capriati. “We were point-for-point and it all came down to just a matter of a couple of points.
“I go for it and it seems to work my way.
“It was really tough that there had to be a loser tonight.”
It will be the second consecutive time Capriati has appeared in the final here. Last year she squandered eight match points before falling to Venus Williams.
Capriati contests Saturday’s final holding a slight 4-3 edge in head-to-head meetings with eighth-seeded Serena, but has lost the last two.
The semifinal between Serena and Venus marked the eighth time the sport’s most famous siblings had met as professionals but only the second that Serena had walked away the winner.
Her victory also brought an end to a remarkable run of success on the Miami hard courts by defending champion Venus, who had been unbeaten at this event since a second round loss to Martina Hingis in 1997.
Venus came into the contest riding a 24 match win streak that included consecutive titles in 1998, 1999 and last year. She did not compete here in 2000 due to injury.
Serena’s victory also marked only the fifth time since 1971 and 28 head-to-head meetings between sisters that the younger sibling has come away the winner.
“I was a little bit shocked by the scoreline, admitted Serena, “It’s been next to impossible to beat Venus at this tournament.
“Venus likes to make a lot of comebacks. I knew she wasn’t going to give it to me, I was going to have to win it.”
Clashing for the first time since last year’s U.S. Open final, Venus and Serena entered a sun-baked center court with the song, “We are Family” blaring around a half-full stadium.
But family feelings were quickly forgotten as Serena went to work, breaking Venus to open the match and then holding serve to surge in front 2-0.
With Venus uncharacteristically tentative and her ground strokes unsure, Serena continued her aggressive assault and was rewarded with another break to increase her advantage to 5-2.
Venus looked to regroup in the second by holding her opening serve but would not do so again, Serena powering her way through the next four games to assume absolute control.
When Venus’s forehand return sailed long to end the contest the sisters moved to the net but there would be no warm embrace such as the one seen at the conclusion of last year’s U.S. Open.