June 2001 -- Wins French Open; soon after rises to No. 3 in the world
Capriati's breakthrough at the Australian Open, combined with her overall improved play in the following months, helped make her the world's No. 4 player and the fourth seed at Roland Garros. Those numbers represented a real jump in status, especially given that Capriati was ranked 14th and seeded 12th at the major Down Under.
But what it really meant, of course, was that if Capriati were to win on the Paris clay, she wasn't going to sneak up on anybody like she did in startling fashion 11 summers ago as a precocious 14-year-old. This time, Capriati was a frontrunner.
Despite that position, she put herself in several jams -- before somehow emerging from them. But I strongly believe Capriati's on-court adversity in that event only strengthened her game and resolve as a top player.
In the quarterfinals against Serena Williams, Capriati seemed to have thrown away the match. She had match point in the second set, only before double-faulting -- which turned the tide and forced Capriati to play for another hour. But I'm sure the setback proved to be a real bonus for her in the long run, because instead of falling apart Capriati didn't let up again. The result was knocking off Williams to live another day, which came against Martina Hingis, Capriati's victim in the semifinals.
What's more, Capriati's experience paid dividends when it counted most, in the final against Kim Clijsters. Capriati was just two points from defeat, but she dug deep again to rally back, winning the second set, 6-4, to stay alive. And one can only guess how much her gritty determination helped her survive the epic 12-10 third set, which gave Capriati her second major title and best showing in Paris since her landmark semifinal appearance in 1990.
After Capriati dispatched Hingis, the world's No. 1 player, I asked the Swiss star to name the Tour's best player. Capriati, she said -- and that was before the 25-year-old American claimed the title. I posed the same question to Venus Williams and she agreed that Capriati was the best. That's exactly what I thought, too -- despite what those crazy computer rankings said.