Capriati Conquers Doubt To Claim Second Straight Australian Open
By Richard Pagliaro
The conditions on court were as sweltering as a steam room during the Australian Open women's final. Waiting to receive serve, Jennifer Capriati rhythmically rocked on her toes as if moving to music playing in her mind. Moving to her own musical muse, Capriati proved she was no one-hit wonder by producing a successful Slam sequel performance.
Playing tenacious tennis under pressure, the top-seeded Capriati turned in a timeless performance, fighting off a record four match points to stage a remarkable rally and capture her second consecutive Australian Open crown with a 4-6, 7-6 (9-7), 6-2 triumph over six-time finalist Martina Hingis.
In a conference call with the media today, Capriati said defending her title was even more difficult than winning her first Australian Open crown.
"I think it's almost harder than winning the first one," Capriati said. "Just to come back and win it again with all the things going on in your mind and the struggles you put yourself through, it's a lot more difficult. It's like you don't want to be remembered for one song. I just definitely was making a statement saying I'm for real and for myself it's just another obstacle and hurdle that I've gone over. It was a challenge that I rose above it."
As the temperatures on court soared to more than 100 degrees, sweat cascaded off Capriati's body forming small pools that looked like the remains of Frosty the Snowman after an extended stay in the sauna. Years spent living in Florida combined with a rigorous training regimen that ranged from weight-lifting to kick boxing to Pilates, helped Capriati withstand the heat that sapped the strength of the slighter Hingis.
"Living here (in Florida) for the past 15 years of my life probably helped," Capriati said. "I know I'm a pretty strong girl. I know my limits and when I've reached my absolute maximum. I was pretty close that day, but wouldn't say I was right there. I had a lot in reserve. You look at my body type and you could see that maybe I'm bigger and stronger physically than Martina. I still had a lot in reserve whereas maybe someone like Martina, she just ran out of gas. I'm kind of a big girl and I had more to give."
Capriati came up big in the final, but it took a series of small steps for her to face her toughest opponent — herself. Facing the fear-factor inherent in defending a Grand Slam title, Capriati channeled her emotions into her play to defeat the feelings of self-doubt and dismiss disappointment by defending her title.
"I was just kind of scared about it (defending her title) in the beginning and kind of nervous going over there," Capriati said. "If I didn't have kind of a scared feeling that wouldn't be normal. I don't want to disappoint myself. I played every match not thinking about other stuff and that got me all the way through. It was very important (to win) it just kind of relieved the pressure a little bit."
The 25-year-old Capriati has resumed training after an extended break in the aftermath of her Australian victory. In two weeks, she heads west to try to Top peak in the valley at the State Farm Classic. The Scottsdale, Arizona event will be staged at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess, February 25-March 3rd. Kim Clijsters, Serena Williams, 2001 runner-up Meghann Shaughnessy and Hingis are among the top players competing in the $585,000 tournament.
Capriati will skip Indian Wells to return to Florida and train for the Nasdaq-100 Open, which will be staged March 20-31st at Crandon Park in Key Biscayne, Florida. A year ago, Capriati held eight championship points in an all-Florida resident final before falling to Venus Williams 4-6, 6-1, 7-6 (7-4).
The Williams sisters, whose highly-anticipated semifinal showdown at Indian Wells last year came to a controversial conclusion when Venus withdrew citing an injury 20 minutes before the match was set to start, will not play Indian Wells this year. And with Lindsay Davenport sidelined while recovering from knee surgery, the tournament will be without the top four American women. Capriati said the timing of the tournament — it ends four days before the Nasdaq-100 Open starts, prevents her from playing it and possibly picking up some easy ranking points.
"Scheduling-wise (Indian Wells) has never been the best time for me and really I'm gonna do what I've gotta do to stay in this game and feel good," Capriati said. "I can't start compromising my time and commitments to concentrate on these ranking points. I figure that if I can play well enough in these other tournaments that will come anyways and I will make up the points. The Ericsson (Nasdaq-100) is more important for me being in my hometown and coming from Indian Wells and adjusting to the time change is just more difficult. I'd rather take that week to get home in Florida and adjust to the conditions and get ready. I can't say I won't ever play there (Indian Wells), but maybe there are more reasons than I wish to comment on right now."
The former Olympic gold medalist said she hasn't had time to watch the Winter Games in Salt Lake City, but the passing of time has not diminished the golden glow she feels as an Olympic champion.
For me it was a great time and great moment that stands up there almost like a Grand Slam," Capriati said. "It's a little different for those athletes because they are working four years of their life for that one specific moment. It's hard to describe unless you've really been in that situation: the thrill of winning and just kind of reflecting on everything you've done. It's your moment in time when you really feel like you're the best."
<wonder what those other reasons are for not playing Indian Wells?>