Capriati back on the court
Straight-set win in Germany
By Tony Czuczka, Associated Press writer
ESSEN, Germany -- Jennifer Capriati said it wasn't easy. But she almost made it look that way with her strong comeback to the tennis circuit she quit in despair in 1993.
Capriati emerged from a slide into tennis burnout, teenage rebellion and drug rehabilitation to beat Kristie Boogert of the Netherlands 6-1, 6-2 Wednesday in her first tournament match in 15 months.
In an aggressive performance, the 19-year-old willed herself to her first victory in 2® years. Boogert, seeded seventh in the WTA tournament and ranked 32nd in the world, was overwhelmed.
Capriati's on-court tension melted away into a broad smile when she claimed victory after 51 minutes. Elated, she seemed intent on putting her past behind her.
"It means a world to me," she said. "I just couldn't wait to get back to playing. It was fun.
"I felt happy and I was happy with my playing. I'm not sure it was all easy."
Also smiling was Capriati's father, Stefano, who watched his daughter's long-awaited triumph from the side of the court.
Capriati, who began training for a comeback last summer, made up for a tentative serve and occasional easy misses with precise returns and double-fisted backhand winners.
Though Capriati's forehand was sometimes as hard as Steffi Graf's, "sometimes I had the feeling that she had no clue where she was hitting, just hitting everything hard," Boogert said.
It was only the second match for Capriati since dropping off the tour in 1993 after a first-round loss at the U.S. Open and headed into drugs and brushes with the law.
Boogert was no serious measure of Capriati's form. But clearly Capriati showed promise in her attempt to restart a career that began at age 13 in 1990.
In Thursday's second round, she will face Barbara Schett, a 19-year-old Austrian ranked 56th in the world.
Capriati had planned her return last week at the Paris Open but withdrew at the last minute, citing a pulled muscle. The $450,000 Essen indoor tournament then offered her a wild-card invitation.
In November 1994, Capriati aborted an earlier comeback after losing in three sets against Germany's Anke Huber at Philadelphia.
A long struggle seems ahead for the former teen-age sensation once ranked No. 6 in the world but now unranked. Unlike Monica Seles upon her return, Capriati got no special treatment from the WTA and will have to work her way up through the rankings.
Capriati had the element of surprise on her side.
"I had no clue what to expect," Boogert said. "The first three games I was more looking at her and how she was playing. Then I finally knew how she was playing, because she was hitting winners all over the place.
"She was hitting the ball great. I think she's going to make a very good comeback. I played a few top players last year and she made me run more than anyone else."
As snow fell outside, about 2,000 fans in the Grugahalle stadium provided a relatively low-key backdrop for Capriati's return.
Still, she said, "I was quite nervous because it's been a long time since I've been out playing in front of a lot of people."
Capriati started by breaking Boogert's serve at love and took a 3-0 lead. After dropping serve to mAKE IT 3-1, Capriati flashed her powerful backhand to win the next three games and the first set.
"I hit two good backhands at the start and that gave me confidence," she said. "I'm very pleased."
Capriati took a 3-0 lead in the second set. Bogert then scored her only break of the match, making it 3-2.
But Capriati settled down without dropping another game, winning on her first match point when Boogert sent a return wide.
Meanwhile, fourth-seeded defending champion Jana Novotna of the Czech Republic defeated Sweden's Maria Strandlund 0-6, 6-4, 6-1.
In other second-round matches, Sweden's Asa Carlsson upset fifth-seeded Czech Helena Sukova 6-4, 4-6, 6-2 and Barbara Rittner of Germany defeated Sabine Appelmans of Belgium 6-4, 6-4.
Capriati has won six tournaments, including the Olympic title. Her last victory was in August 1993 at the Canadian Open, where she defeated Arantxa Sanchez Vicario in the semifinals before losing to Graf in the final.
At 14, she became the youngest Grand Slam semifinalist in history at the 1990 French Open.
She peaked with a gold medal at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, beating Graf in the final.
In 1993, Capriati left the tour after a first-round loss at the U.S. Open and went into a skid.
She was cited by police for shoplifting a cheap ring, arrested on marijuana possession charges in the spring of 1994 and admitted twice to drug rehabiliation therapy.
A teen-ager arrested with her claimed Capriati also had used heroin, a charge she never denied.
Now, she seems happy not to look back.