- TENNIS - Capriati completes comeback with first Grand Slam

Monday, February 12
Capriati completes comeback with first Grand Slam

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Dazed with disbelief by her improbable achievement, Jennifer Capriati wore a grin bigger than the Outback as she hoisted a Grand Slam championship trophy over her head for the first time.

Jennifer Capriati
Jennifer Capriati celebrates her victory against top seed Martina Hingis in the women's singles final at the Australian Open on Saturday.

The crowd roared. Her father beamed. Her comeback was complete.

A heavy underdog and a sentimental favorite, Capriati upset top-seeded Martina Hingis 6-4, 6-3 on Saturday to win the Australian Open.

It was the most captivating moment in a tumultuous career for Capriati, the former child prodigy who left the women's tour in the mid-1990s because of drug and personal problems.

Capriati, 24, entered the tournament seeded 12th and might be the most unlikely women's major champion since the Open era began in 1968. She beat defending champion Lindsay Davenport and four-time champ Monica Seles en route to the final, then outplayed Hingis from the start.

When Capriati closed out the victory by slamming a backhand return winner on the first match point, she hopped up and down, grinned and cried with joy.

"I just couldn't believe it," she said. "I got the chills. I just thought, `Wow, the moment has finally come. Now I can enjoy it.'"

Jennifer Capriati
Age: 24
Lives: Wesley Chapel, Fla.
Plays: Right-handed, double-handed backhand
Grand Slam titles: 2001 Aussie Open
Australian Open record: 2001-final, 2000-semifinals, 1999-second round, 1997-first round, 1993-quarterfinals, 1992-quarterfinals
How Capriati got there:
First: Henrieta Nagyova 4-6, 6-2, 7-5
Second: Miriam Oremans 6-0, 6-2
Third: Virginia Ruano Pascual 6-0, 6-2
Fourth: Marta Marrero 7-5, 6-1
Quarters: Monica Seles 5-7, 6-4, 6-3
Semis: Lindsay Davenport 6-3, 6-4
Final: Martina Hingis 6-4, 6-3

Capriati shook hands with Hingis, thrust her fists in the air and trotted over to her father and coach, Stefano. He happily rubbed her right arm -- the one that had just delivered a Grand Slam title. Then she went to her changeover chair and phoned her brother back home in Florida.

"Who would've thought I would have ever made it here after so much has happened?" Capriati told a supportive center-court crowd during the trophy ceremony. "Dreams do come true if you keep believing in yourself. Anything can happen."

Capriati, whose troubles as a teen-ager made international headlines, was 17 when she dropped off the tour for 2½ years following the 1993 U.S. Open. She went five years without winning a Grand Slam match.

But those days were a distant memory Sunday afternoon for Capriati and her family.

Said her beaming father: "I'm very proud. I've always felt proud of Jennifer."

On a gorgeous, cloudless day, Capriati was as perfect as the weather at the outset, racing to a 4-0 lead in just 12 minutes. She slugged boldly from the baseline but was accurate, too, playing 25 points before she hit a shot long.

"I thought, `Why be nervous? She has everything to lose. Just go for it,"' Capriati said.

Her newfound fitness was often evident. She repeatedly ran down Hingis' drop shots, including on the final point of the first set, when she raced forward and bunted a backhand winner into the corner.

The crowd was clearly on Capriati's side, with fans shouting out encouragement to her between points. Stefano Capriati watched nervously from under a red, white and blue USA hat, grinning and shaking his fist when his daughter hit a winner.

By the second set, Hingis' frustration was increasingly evident. In the second game, after barely ticking Capriati's serve, Hingis hurled her racket to the court and kicked it in anger.

Hingis double-faulted on break point to fall behind 3-2, and Capriati's serve -- her downfall in the past -- held up the rest of the way.

"It's a Grand Slam final," she said. "I wasn't going to let my lead go."

Hingis was bidding for her sixth Grand Slam title but her first since winning the 1999 Australian Open. After beating Serena and Venus Williams in the same tournament for the first time, she was a big favorite in the final.

"People said, `You won it already,' but I didn't say that," Hingis said. "I knew I had to beat a great player out there."

The defeat was only the second for Hingis in 35 matches at Melbourne Park since 1997.

"There are worse disasters in life than what happened to me today," Hingis said. "I can still smile. I don't think I did anything wrong. The way she played, she didn't give me too many chances."

Capriati beat Hingis for the first time in their six meetings.

"I hope to be in many more finals with you," Capriati told Hingis during the trophy ceremony. "You've had lots of times here, and I'm glad I finally got to be in one."

Capriati ranks with the most improbable of major champions. The only unseeded women's champion in the Open era was Chris O'Neil, who won the Australian Open in 1978, when many top players skipped the tournament. The lowest seeded women's champ previously was Iva Majoli, who won the 1997 French Open when seeded ninth.

Capriati will climb to seventh in next week's rankings, the first time she has been in the top 10 since Jan. 16, 1994, when she was ninth.

For the first time since 1995, the tournament is awarding equal prize money to men and women. Capriati received $473,385, and Hingis got $236,693.

In the men's doubles final, Todd Woodbridge earned his 12th Grand Slam doubles title when he teamed with Sweden's Jonas Bjorkman to beat Bryon Black and David Prinosil 6-1, 7-5, 6-4, 6-4.

It was Woodbridge's first Grand Slam title without longtime partner Mark Woodforde, who retired last year.

The title was Bjorkman's third Australian Open doubles title in four years -- each with a different partner.


Worn-down Hingis blames schedule for loss

New partner, no problem: Woodbridge wins doubles final

Williamses don't leave empty-handed, win doubles

Agassi a heavy favorite in Australian Open final

Washington: Final pick

Clement saves two match points, advances to final

Judge rules Hingis should testify at trial of alleged stalker