Capriati relies on French polish to clean up again
by neil harman
The champion is already brushing up her victory speech
JENNIFER CAPRIATI burbled to the crowd at Roland Garros last year something about reading her winner’s speech in their native tongue should she retain the French Open title. “My Mom keeps asking me if I’m still working on it,” Capriati said without revealing just how far down the linguistic road she has journeyed.
It may be that other things are pressing on her mind — the image, perhaps, of one of two sisters pirouetting on to the winner’s platform at Court Philippe Chatrier on June 8 or of a Belgian (speaking the language fluently, of course) stepping up in her place.
When Capriati said a couple of months ago, in plain American, that she did not think the Williamses were as dangerous on clay as elsewhere, it stoked another ember beneath the sisters’ ravenous ambition. Of Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin, the Belgians, she appreciates plenty.
What Capriati knows, too, is that she can handle the demands of defending grand- slam ownership, as she portrayed in suffocating conditions in the final of the Australian Open in January. Her torment was only slightly less than that of Martina Hingis, who will not be seen again this year until the lead-up tournaments to the US Open at the earliest after surgery on her damaged left foot this week.
“It’s definitely on for me to win again,” Capriati said of the the French Open, which starts on Monday. “I have shown that I can overcome that hurdle and if there are no pressures in my mind I know I can play my best tennis. If I do that, anything is possible. I look upon this as a nice pressure and it’s why I started playing tennis in the first place.”
Which immediately makes one think back to 1989, when the girl from Disney World came to the home of Euro Disney and won the French Open junior event a year before she reached the semi-finals of the Championship itself — a 14-year-old as natural as you could wish to find inhabiting the unnatural environment of professional tennis. We do not need to rehash the story of Capriati’s fall, except to appreciate the scale of her rise to heights previously untouched.
“I’m getting a nice kick out of what I’m achieving,” Capriati, 26, the world No 1 and top seed for the French Open, said. “I appreciate it, it puts a smile on my face and and it reminds me of what I have done.
“I think to myself ‘yeah, it is me’. I’m grateful for all that’s happened, I want to keep hearing positive things. People are responding to me in a good way because for a long time I got such negative responses. It’s not that I’m trying something extra, it’s just my life now — that’s the way it is.”
The way in which her clothes sponsor hands over a top-of-the-range Ferrari to celebrate her “courage and humility”. It is not as if, as the dispersal of these trinkets go, she does not deserve a glossy charabanc, but she is hardly a New York City fireman. That is four cars in the garage now, one, she hopes, for each grand-slam championship by the end of the year.
Could she win all four? “I think it can be done,” she said. “Not so long ago, I might have thought the first one wasn’t possible but that came true. I’m setting my mind to try to win the two I haven’t won.
“I’ll be doing the best I can. It’s such a challenge because the tour is so much more demanding these days — the girls are in such good shape, their fitness levels are awesome. To me, what tennis is like today and what it was 20 years ago is comparing apples with oranges.
“I know I get more satisfaction out of winning now than I did when I was younger. The sport is so much more competitive. At 14, you hit the ball and you’re oblivious to what’s going on around you. If I had a tough match back then I’d bounce back within a couple of hours, but there’s so much more recovery time required now. In general, it’s much more of an effort.”
Capriati is primed for the task. In Rome last week, though she lost in the semifinals to Serena Williams in a match that eschewed elegance, she looked to have shed a couple of pounds from the player who met a similar fate in the final at Key Biscayne eight weeks earlier. She has spent the past few days in Spain working with her father, Stefano, to replicate the conditions she needs to conquer to win seven matches in the approaching fortnight.
“Movement is the thing you have to get right on the clay,” she said. “You come into this time of the year knowing everything will be slowed up, the points won’t be over as quickly, so your mental attitude has to be spot on as well. You have to stay right there. I know I don’t have to worry about the physical side.
“I have started slowly in some matches but I’m working on that, I want to come out from the beginning playing in a way that shows my intent. I might have a lapse of course, everyone does. I get a little bored, the concentration goes, but when I start to make it tough for myself, it’s almost a good sign because I know I will start to get tougher again.”
To the extent that most of us heading for Roland Garros this weekend expect to hear a few giggled words in crumpled French a couple of Saturdays hence.
May 25th, 2002, 04:57 PM
Thanks GogoGirl. That is a great article. Jennifer sounds really confident.
May 25th, 2002, 05:12 PM
Very good article, but what's with the "heights previously untouched" comment? If any1 can enlighten me, please do!
May 25th, 2002, 05:32 PM
Thanks God Monday is almost here.
Have a great weekend and holiday everyone.
FIGHTER JENNIFER LOOKS GOOD
By Andy Schooler
Click here for full audio interview
Former Wimbledon champion Pat Cash is backing world number one Jennifer Capriati to retain her French Open title.
Capriati won the event last year with a thrilling victory over Kim Clijsters in the final which she eventually won 12-10 in the deciding set.
And Cash, now a successful TV commentator, believes the American can repeat her success.
"She's a tough girl. We all talk about the problems she's had and the comeback she's made. But she's done it due to one reason - she's tough, really tough.
"She hasn't got the leading-up form of some of the Grand Slams she's done well in, but she hits the ball as hard as anybody and seems to do it under pressure."
Capriati famously saved four set points against Martina Hingis in this year's Australian Open to defend her title and it is those qualities which can she her through here, according to Cash.
"When she's in trouble, she can continue to do the business and that's a real sign of a champion."
As always, Capriati will come under pressure from the Williams sisters, Venus and Serena, who are in opposite sides of the draw. Capriati could face Serena in the semi-finals.
"The Williams girls are the players in from coming in to the tournament.
"I'm a big fan of Venus. She's a great athlete and great athletes will consistently do well.
"She's has got the game to win here. It really is a mental thing with Venus. She likes to hit a lot of winners and doesn't like to see the ball come back.
"I think she's got the game, whether she's actually prepared to stay out there and really work hard is the question."
Cash continued: "As for Serena, what a powerhouse she is. She hits the ball incredibly hard. She's had a bit of a weakness on her forehand in the last couple of years and some players have worked that out.
"But she seems to have dealt with that problem and is playing some of the best tennis she's ever played, if not the best."
But Cash believes Serena has had the rough end of the stick in the draw which has put her on course for a mouth-watering quarter-final meeting with Justine Henin.
The pair have beaten each other on clay in recent weeks and looks likely to enter another battle royale.
It is one which Henin - a semi-finalist here last year - can come through, according to our pundit.
"What a backhand she's got - it's the most beautiful backhand we've ever seen - and she's as quick as lightning.
"With that backhand and her speed, she can match it with anybody. I see her getting through against Serena."
So if it is Capriati and Henin in the top half, who is coming through the opposite side of the draw?
"Kim Clijsters. She is going to cruise through. She does have Amelie Mauresmo there who can play play well under the conditions in Paris, but she is a bit hit and miss.
"Elena Dementieva is also in her section, but I don't see her as a real threat. Clijsters is a quality player and is going to go through without too much trouble to the semi-finals.
"In the semis, I'm not 100 per cent sure Venus can beat Clijsters, but I'd go for her and Capriati in the final.
"If those two play, he heart says Williams. I want her to win on clay. She's a good player and people have been writing her off a bit.
"But at the end of the day, Capriati is tough and that's what counts at the French. Conditions can be swirly, stinking hot or freezing cold and when it comes down to it, I think Capriati is the number one seed for a reason."
May 25th, 2002, 05:46 PM
ummmm..........nah, serena will get past justine and for the 5th consecutive time, take Jennifer out of the tournament.
May 25th, 2002, 05:55 PM
Great articles. Thanks a lot!!! I am really excited for Jen to be defending champ for the second slam of the year. Hopefully the final will be a repeat of the 1990 semis...Monica vs. Jen!!!
May 25th, 2002, 06:05 PM
Cheers and Fears: A Quick Peak At the French Open
5/24/02 6:23 PM
By Joel Drucker
special to USTA.com
No other tournament more vividly demonstrates the United Nations-like qualities of tennis than the French Open. As the only Grand Slam where English is not the primary language, Roland Garros exudes a cosmopolitan flavor. It’s also a richly sensual tournament, a mix of squeaking feet and dusty socks, hearty grunts and luscious clay, all adding up to the most physical tennis on earth. Winning the French requires unprecedented patience, first-rate fitness and wise shotmaking. To quote one of my favorite Doors’ songs, “No one here gets out alive.”
Can Andre survive the clay courts of Paris? Photo: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
• Good Morning, America. Challenging as Roland Garros has been for Americans, this year there’s a reasonable chance an American-born male and female can win for the first time since Tony Trabert and Maureen Connolly did it in 1954. At 32, Andre Agassi is more focused than ever. Tempting as it is to cite marriage as dulling a player’s skills, in Agassi’s case that wife happens to be a fairly dedicated person named Graf. Who better to understand the demands of a champion? But even though Agassi’s looked impressive winning big events at Key Biscayne and Rome, I only see him as a prohibitive French favorite. He’s stumbled badly there the last two years, and I’m just not certain his body and mind can withstand seven dirtballing matches. But it would be stupid not to put him right up there with Lleyton Hewitt, Marat Safin and Gustavo Kuerten as the top choices.
On the women’s side, it’s a sound bet to take defending champ Jennifer Capriati, Venus and Serena Williams versus the remaining 125 players. The slight edge goes to Serena, who this year has been playing with more consistency than ever. Her win last week over Capriati in Rome consolidated her current stranglehold over Jennifer. And I also see Jennifer as feeling rushed and disturbed during her matches. Glorious as Capriati’s comeback these last two years has been, there are signs everywhere that she’s indeed fed up with the tennis life. Though she remains a feisty, fit ballstriker, that crabbiness can catch up with a player during a Slam. As for Venus, her health is questionable. She pulled out of Rome moments before a match versus Anna Kournikova, claiming she’d injured it carrying a racket bag. Those slight injuries might not matter on a rat-a-tat place like Wimbledon, but at Roland Garros, toothaches can quickly become cavities.
• Guga, Tennis’ Energizer Bunny. Barely six weeks ago, this human Slinky was recovering from hip surgery. Somehow he’s gotten himself right into the thick of things again, and though he’s yet to win a tournament, he’s fought hard and shown ample hunger in pursuit of a fourth French (and third straight). Guga’s got a vivid package for the French: He can run all day and can strike lots of big shots, most notably when he rips his backhand – either with the contemporary down-the-line drive or the rolling crosscourt. A potential Kuerten-Lleyton Hewitt quarterfinal could be one for the ages.
Photo: Scott Barbour/Getty Images
• The Belgian Sensations. I love the dedication of Justine Henin and Kim Clijsters. Henin recently even admitted she gets nervous trying to close out matches. And though Henin’s one-handed backhand and shotmaking makes her appealing to watch, Clijsters’ game strikes me as more physical and capable of scaling the heights necessary for success in today’s women’s game.
• Monica Soldiers On. Veteran baseball legend Satchel Paige once asked, “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were?” At 28, Seles has millions of miles on her odometer. But she carries on. On the verge of retirement last summer, this three-time French champ (a million years ago in the ’90-’92 period) retooled her body and earlier this year beat Venus at the Australian. The only rub: Brilliant as her game is, Seles’ inability to learn how to close out points is as frustrating as a 30-year fixed loan at 11 percent – and at this stage, there’s no chance she’ll refinance. But with a few breaks from the draw and the weather, she’ll be in the hunt.
• You couldn’t ask for a wider disparity between the top two men’s seeds than Hewitt and Marat Safin. Hewitt is a 21st century Jimmy Connors – feisty yet mature. Safin is a little boy trapped inside a big man’s body. Good a grinder as Hewitt is, it’s not certain he has the strength to strike too many winners on the slow clay. Will the high balls wear him down? Then again, Hewitt is as great a competitor as you’ll ever see. Safin has all the tools – a great backhand, big serve, shotmaking everywhere – but his mind is suspect.
• Like Charlie Brown running to kick the football, each year Pete Sampras – my pick for tennis’ best ever –- comes to Paris armed with the best of intentions, only to fall on his butt. Anywhere but European clay, and his first round match versus Andrea Gaudenzi is a walk. But let’s look closer: Gaudenzi’s a crafty, veteran Italian. He knows this surface. Heck, last year Pete struggled to beat a qualifier who’d months before lost to 44-year-old Gene Mayer. My view: Even though Pete’s retained claycourt genius Jose Higueras as a his coach, and even though he invariably talks about his desire to win the French, the real purpose of Higueras is to rekindle Sampras’ love and intensity – and generate big-time results at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.
Carlos Moya and Spain have a bevy of great clay-courters. Photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
• Spanish Armada. Every few years a collegial group of fellas comes along who conjure up notions of the Australian era of teamwork and championships. In the ‘80s, it was Sweden. Now it’s Spain, and certainly the likes of ’98 French champ Carlos Moya, two-time runner-up Alex Corretja and rising Juan-Carlos Ferrero demand attention. But I’ll tell you this: This Spanish crew strike me as weary, rarely rising much for big occasions. Do they play too much? Are they worn out from focusing on Davis Cup? Are their games too prosaic? I feel a disturbance in the force, a sense that this Spanish feast is more likely a bunch of Spanish rice – and might be saying the same thing in two years about the French.
• Andy Roddick's Sophomore Year. The French and next month's Wimbledon are vital tournaments for America's great hope. Not that he needs to win either, but after last year's reasonable debuts, he needs to start advancing deep into the draw. Seeded 13th at Roland Garros, Roddick's got a rough first round versus dangerous Aussie Wayne Arthurs and is on a path to meet slashing Swede Thomas Enqvist in the 3rd round. Whether he wins or loses, how he competes will reveal much.
• Dark horses. Men: Guillermo Canas, Jiri Novak. Women: She won’t win it this year, but Daniela Hantuchova is a hot prospect.
Do you think it is true what they say about Jen? That she's sick of the tennis life???
May 25th, 2002, 07:15 PM
Thanks for the great articles!
And achamber, I definitely don't think it's true about Jen. I think she's hungrier than ever. If Jen was fed up, she wouldn't be playing anymore. She's through bothering with things that make her miserable. ;) :D
May 25th, 2002, 09:16 PM
with her serve she will be lucky to past the quarters in the top 2 slams...she has very little chance of winning at Wimbledon and no chance at the USOpen...her chances in Paris are not nearly as strong as she believes...
I think Jenn is starting to drink some that delusion juice that has choked Hingis for 3plus years now
May 26th, 2002, 03:06 AM
Jennifer is really confident... :eek:
May 26th, 2002, 03:09 AM
LOL@ Pat Cassh. He says Venus doesn't get enough respect, yet he assumes she is starting the tournament in the Semifinal.
May 26th, 2002, 11:46 AM
Well for JenCap's sake I'm glad she believes in herself - she'd never make it through otherwise. After Oz 2002 I think it's tempting fate to say she's not a contender again.
Mind you, I'm not surprised she's confident after seeing her draw.
May 26th, 2002, 09:42 PM
All winners have to believe in themselves first and far most.
Sun, 26 May 2002
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Capriati Among Few Healthy Stars
The Associated Press
PARIS (AP) — Jennifer Capriati hasn't gotten around to watching a tape of one of the most thrilling French Open finals in history.
She was there, of course, for the live version — one she hopes to recreate in two weeks by retaining her title at the clay-court Grand Slam tournament.
Picking up where she left off in Paris, the top-seeded Capriati practiced Sunday morning with Kim Clijsters, the Belgian who lost that 1-6, 6-4, 12-10 marathon for the 2001 championship. The 22 games were the most in a third set of a French Open women's final, and the most in a third set of a major women's final since the 1948 U.S. Open.
``I really haven't seen it again. I only remember playing it,'' Capriati said. ``I'm sure maybe they'll show it a couple of times on TV or something, some highlights. But I think I have a few things to look at to get me inspired to play some good tennis.''
Indeed. Watching just about any of her matches from the past 1 1/2 years would give Capriati reason to smile, given how low she had fallen and how high she's risen.
The French Open gets under way Monday on center court with No. 2-seeded Venus Williams playing Bianka Lamade of Germany, followed by three-time men's champion Gustavo Kuerten against Ivo Heuberger of Switzerland.
No. 4 Clijsters and No. 6 Monica Seles also play first-round matches Monday, as does the top-seeded man, U.S. Open champion Lleyton Hewitt, along with Pete Sampras, Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Australian Open winner Thomas Johansson.
Intermittent rain disrupted play in Sunday's charity event and Monday's forecast calls for more showers.
Capriati is scheduled to play Tuesday against Marissa Irvin, a first-round loser at the last three Grand Slam events. Also off until Tuesday are No. 4 Andre Agassi (vs. Eric Prodon, a French qualifier ranked 270th) and No. 3 Serena Williams (vs. Martina Sucha, a Slovakian who's lost her opening match in eight of 13 tourneys this year).
Off the WTA Tour completely in 1995, Capriati has won three of the past five Grand Slam tournaments (Venus Williams claimed the other two) and is ranked No. 1.
Tremendous stamina has fueled her renaissance.
An ability to play and play and play at a high level was evident when she outlasted Clijsters here last year, just as it was when she overcame a Grand Slam final-record four match points to beat Martina Hingis in January's Australian Open.
``Everyone, I think, plays with pain,'' said Capriati, who figures she was completely injury-free for only about half a dozen matches this year. ``But fitness is a big part of why I've had no major injuries or anything to keep me really out.''
That's a rarity these days.
Hingis had ankle surgery this month, forcing her out of a Grand Slam tournament for the first time since she turned pro in 1994. Former No. 1 Lindsay Davenport has been sidelined since November with a knee injury, while men missing from the French Open include Goran Ivanisevic (shoulder), Marcelo Rios (knee), and Greg Rusedski (neck).
And several top players who are here have been ailing, including Kuerten (hip), No. 2 Marat Safin (back), Venus Williams (wrist), and Serena Williams (leg).
``It just seems like a lot of players are injured,'' Capriati noted. ``So you get used to them not all being there.''
After hip surgery 2 1/2 months ago, Kuerten didn't think he would be here.
On Sunday, he discounted his chances of winning a third straight French Open, something accomplished only by Bjorn Borg, who took four in a row from 1978-81.
Kuerten has played just 11 matches this year — not nearly enough preparation, he said, for the beating a body takes during best-of-five-set matches over two weeks on the point-lengthening red clay.
``I cannot say I don't see any chance, but it seems like many guys are playing better than me. I don't know how my body's going to respond,'' the Brazilian said, adding he probably will skip Wimbledon (he did last year, too) to rehab his hip.
``Maybe I have to take a little extra risk sometimes, take more chances than I normally used to, because I still don't have movement,'' he said.
Besides, tennis isn't necessarily foremost in Guga's mind.
The World Cup begins Friday, and Kuerten loves to watch Brazil's soccer team play. He's a sports nut, in general: Upon arriving for a news conference Sunday, he walked over to a TV and switched to a channel showing Formula One's Monte Carlo Grand Prix. When a security guard changed it back to a feed of the news conference, Kuerten said, ``Hey, amigo!'' and motioned to put back the auto race.
``When Brazil's playing (in the World Cup), I hope I'm not on the court,'' Kuerten said. ``You don't know which you should concentrate on.''
His worst French Open showing over the past five years?
A second-round loss in 1998 — the last time the World Cup was played.