Capriati's Cinderella story
By Bud Collins
Updated: 3:04 p.m. ET June 01, 2004PARIS
We saw something happen in the women's quarterfinals at Roland Garros that I’m pretty sure hasn’t happened before – the Williams sisters lost their matches within a half hour of each other. It was just a few years ago that the sisters supreme –- Venus and Serena –- seemed virtually unconquerable. But this spring enter Jennifer Capriati -- at least in the case of Serena.
Double dose of doom
Up until the end of Wimbledon last year, Serena seemed unstoppable, not even Venus could make a stand against her baby sister.
But things seemed to be changing rapidly and proof positive of that was watching the two sisters surrender to opponents on a very gloomy day here in Paris.
Serena became the first victim, falling to Capriati in between the raindrops, leaving the two-time French Open champion with a 6-3, 2-6, 6-3 win and safe passage into the semifinals.
Venus' loss came exactly 28 minutes later, providing Anastasia Myskina with her first career Grand Slam semifinal berth compliments of a 6-3, 6-4 win.
2001 all over again?
Although it would be foolish not to admit that a lot of today was about the losses by Serena and Venus, it was also very much about the win by Capriati, who is America’s favorite Cinderella story.
So we can look at today as a good and bad day for American tennis, but it was definitely a great day for Jennifer, coming through such a big match.
For Jennifer, her greatest hope is that luck is in her corner.
When she came to the press room after the match, she was wearing a permanent-looking smile on her face and she was quick to mention that “sometimes history repeats itself.”
This is what she is banking on since she beat Serena in a three-set quarterfinal match in 2001 when she won the title here at Roland Garros.
Turning the tide
This was a very big occasion for Capriati, whom we have watched from 14-year-old teen prodigy to the 28-year-old young woman she is today.
The past couple of years she has played way more close three-set battles at the majors than she would’ve have liked, and most of those times she was on the wrong end of those encounters.
And let’s not forget to look at her record against Serena, which hasn’t been very strong –- Serena came into today’s match with a 9-5 winning edge.
And from the time that Jennifer beat Serena in the 2001 Wimbledon quarterfinals, she has only won one of their last nine encounters until today, and that straight-set win came just a few weeks ago in the Italian Open semifinals.
Hang on to Heinz
I was one of the first in the interview room when Jennifer came to talk to us scribes after the match today and I made sure to congratulate her on the two aggressive chip-and-charge shots she made during the match.
She giggled at my bringing up the subject, saying, “When in doubt, go to the net.”
But that has never been Jennifer’s career strategy so I felt it important to mention the “going to the net” concept –- maybe she’ll keep up that effort.
I’m quite confident that this new –- if not, frequent tactic of hers -- is the result of her recent coaching alignment with Heinz Gunthardt.
I am quite sure that Gunthardt has been encouraging her to take some opportunities to visit the net (let’s hope he also remembers to work on her second serve which needs some assistance).
Gunthardt is an excellent coach and he spent years keeping Steffi Graf at the forefront of the women's game.
According to Gunthardt, Capriati and he have an agreement to work together through Wimbledon and then they will see whether the relationship will continue.
If Jennifer would like my opinion on this subject, I encourage her to keep Heinz on because I think he’s a very wise coach and can offer her a great deal of knowledge.
Heinz tells me that it was Jennifer’s father, Stefano, who actually brought him on board -– that’s a big step for Stefano since he’s the type of guy who likes to keep a hands-on approach to his daughter’s career.
Father now knows best
I’m confident that Stefano was aware that Gunthardt is not the type of guy to be in a situation where he isn’t in control, so maybe Stefano is willing to take a bit of a backseat.
For sure, the fact that Capriati came to the Italian Open, where she was just nudged out of winning the title in the final by Amelie Mauresmo, with Gunthardt and no members of her family, was a telling sign.
At 28-years-old, she needs to be taking a bit more of the responsibility in guiding her career without a family counsel for every match.
Through all of Capriati’s ups-and-downs, the one thing that you’ve always had to admire is that she’s a tremendous fighter.
She hasn’t always won the battles, that we all know, but you rarely see her not trying her best to get the deed done.
Gazing into my crystal ball
The way I see it now, Capriati should be a sure shot to win her fourth major –- she already has the 2001 French Open and 2001 and 2002 Australian Open trophies on her shelves at home.
In the semifinals I didn’t expect to see Capriati, but I believe she can get past Anastasia Myskina.
And I also think that in the final Jennifer, with Heinz Gunthardt boosting her confidence all the way, can beat either Argentine sensation Paolo Suarez or Russia's Elena Dementieva.
And as they say, time will tell whether I’m right on this prediction, but I’m hoping Capriati will make me look good in just a few days time.
© 2004 MSNBC Interactive