PARIS -- Jennifer Capriati jogged to the corner of the
stadium where her family stood cheering, climbed onto a ledge and
leaned over the railing to give her brother and father an emotional
It's amazing she still had the strength, almost as amazing as
her being the new French Open champion.
Weariness gave way to jubilation when Capriati finally closed
out the grueling, elusive victory Saturday, beating tenacious
Belgian teenager Kim Clijsters 1-6, 6-4, 12-10.
"I'm just waiting to wake up from this dream," Capriati told
the crowd during the trophy ceremony. "It doesn't seem like
reality right now."
Nervous and cranky in the unfamiliar role of heavy favorite,
Capriati started poorly and then staged a comeback -- something she
knows plenty about. At 25, the former teenage prodigy has
resurrected a career derailed by drugs and personal problems to
become the dominant player in women's tennis.
Capriati won her first major title in January at the Australian
Open, almost 11 years after she made history as a 14-year-old
semifinalist in Paris. She now is halfway to a Grand Slam sweep that
only three women have accomplished, most recently Steffi Graf in
"She's rounding second," said Kevin O'Connor, an executive at
Saddlebrook Resort in Florida, where Capriati has lived and trained
since she was 11. "She's at a time in her career where she's
really enjoying it. She doesn't feel the pressure or expectations
she felt in the past. That's maturity."
The last woman to win the year's first two Grand Slam
tournaments was Monica Seles in 1992. Capriati will now set her
sights on Wimbledon, which begins June 25.
"Who knows what can happen?" she said. "I feel comfortable on
Anything seems possible now for Capriati, who dropped to 267th
in the world in 1998 but is 14-0 in the majors this year. The
streak includes a pair of victories over top-ranked Martina Hingis
and one each over Lindsay Davenport, Serena Williams and Seles.
But the latest victory was the toughest of all. Clijsters, who
turned 18 Friday, proved a remarkably poised opponent even as the
tense final set unfolded. In terms of games, it was the longest
third set of any French Open women's final, and the longest third
set in any Grand Slam women's final since the 1948 U.S. Open.
Four times, the 12th-seeded Clijsters was within two points of
the championship. Each time, the fourth-seeded Capriati rose to the
"She's playing with so much confidence at the moment, she
doesn't feel any pressure," said Clijsters, who settled for the
consolation of being the first Belgian to reach a Grand Slam final.
Both players battled fatigue in the latter stages of the 2-hour,
21-minute marathon. With Clijsters serving at 10-10, Capriati won a
long rally by skipping a backhand off the baseline, then leaned on
her racket in exhaustion. But she summoned the energy to win that
game by closing out a 20-shot exchange with an overhead slam.
"I'd rather have a match like that than an easy one," she
said. "I love it."
Serving for the title, Capriati needed six more points to finish
it off. On the second match point, she smacked a forehand winner,
then hopped up and down in glee. She gave Clijsters a warm hug at
the net, clasped her hands over her head and trotted over to her
The crowd's ovation rose as she embraced Steven, her brother and
practice partner, then Stefano, her father and coach.
"When I looked at my family, and how happy they were and
crying, it was really amazing," she said.
Capriati's tumultuous past has given her a unique perspective,
and during the trophy ceremony she dedicated the victory to Corina
Morariu, a fellow American touring pro recently diagnosed with a
rare form of leukemia.
"I started thinking about it as I got close to being in the
finals here," Capriati said. "I just wanted to show that my heart
is with her."
Capriati accepted the championship trophy from Olympic 100-meter
champion Maurice Greene and seven-time French Open champion Chris
Evert, whose father, Jimmy, started giving Capriati lessons when
she was 5 years old.
Capriati overcame eight double faults and a whopping 79 unforced
errors, with 39 coming in the opening set. She admitted being
nervous at the start, when her footwork was sluggish and she became
annoyed by chanting Belgian fans and wind noise from the chair
umpire's microphone. She complained about both, drawing a few jeers
from the otherwise supportive crowd.
"Some things were getting to me," Capriati said. "It was
probably just nerves -- and she was playing so well."
Clijsters embraced the biggest moment of her young career from
the start. Her supporters included boyfriend Lleyton Hewitt, a top
player himself, and Crown Prince Philippe and Princess Mathilde of
Clijsters had the muscle to put her opponent on the defensive
and the speed and stamina to keep rallies going. With the match
slipping away, Capriati stayed alive thanks to her serve -- not
usually her best weapon. After losing seven consecutive games, she
hit two service winners to hold for 1-1, then hit two more for a
4-2 lead in the second set.
"Maybe I wasn't playing my best tennis, but at the right times
I picked it up," Capriati said. "I was fighting until the end for
my life out there. I just wanted to win so bad."
Capriati held twice more to close out the second set, but more
than half of the match was yet to be played. Chants of
"Jenn-i-fer! Jenn-i-fer!" broke out, answered by chants of
"Clij-sters! Clij-sters!" from flag-waving Belgians.
Using her racket like a sand wedge, Clijsters chipped a backhand
drop shot for 3-2 lead, then slammed a 105-mph ace to make it 5-4.
Capriati finally began to find the range on her forehand, and won a
point-blank exchange at the net with an acrobatic volley.
At 11-10, as Capriati walked to the baseline to serve for the
match, the crowd broke into its first wave of the day, and Stefano
Capriati joined in. His daughter soaked up the moment, then showed
the poise of a champion, missing only two of six serves and
successfully charging the net twice.
"I was having a heart attack," Steven Capriati said. "I told
my dad at 5-all, `I can't watch anymore.' It was gut-wrenching." Send this story to a friend | Most sent stories
|Eleven years after appearing in her first Roland Garros tournament, Jennifer Capriati holds up the French Open trophy.||
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Jennifer Capriati had trouble believing she won the French Open (Courtesy: NBC Sports).
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Runner-up Kim Clijsters congratulates Jennifer Capriati on a great tournament (Courtesy: NBC Sports).
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