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Comeback: Part Deux

[Photos: AP]
Capriati returns a backhand to Kim Clijsters. Their final set had the most games played (22) in women's French Open final.

Compiled from Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 10, 2001


Jennifer Capriati rallies to win the French, her 2nd major in a row, 1-6, 6-4, 12-10 over Kim Clijsters.

PARIS -- There was a dramatic pause in Jennifer Capriati's resurrection during an unforgettable French Open final before she was able to separate herself from a dogged Kim Clijsters.

After nearly 2 1/2 hours, and two lost chances to serve out the match, Capriati finally tapped out the well of courage inside the 18-year-old Clijsters when she pounded a forehand winner out of her reach on match point.

They embraced at the net, all but hanging on to each other for support.

photo
Capriati celebrates her second Grand Slam title.
While she was weary in body and spirit, Capriati managed to smile and wave to the center court crowd after capturing the first half to a Grand Slam with a 1-6, 6-4, 12-10 victory at the French Open, a title added to the Australian Open she won in January.

Clijsters was poised to crumple the 25-year-old Capriati's storybook pages with her resilient efforts. Neither wanted to give in at the end, dragging themselves through the clay until the last point.

"I'm so thrilled, so happy," Capriati said as she stood on court. "To win in this way, it means more. I just stuck in there and stayed tough. I just tried to play every point. I think in some parts, we were equally nervous. To get past her, I don't know how I did it.

"I can't believe this. I just won two Grand Slam events in a row. I can't believe it."

It wasn't so complicated when Capriati was still considered more of a miracle in her comeback than a regular in a major final. The pressure wasn't so great when she stepped on the court for the championship match at the Australian Open.

On Saturday, Capriati was expected to complete the first half of the four-tournament Grand Slam -- Wimbledon and the U.S. Open remain -- by taking the French Open without a threat.

But Capriati wavered when she had a chance to serve out the match in the 14th game of the third set, gave in again when she earned that right in the 20th game. In the 22nd, she finally had the last say on the match.

The 12th-seeded Clijsters played the match of her life, equaling Capriati's powerful strokes with her own, sliding into splits to put a racket on the ball, pushing her opponent's nerves to the edge.

For a while, the match resembled the upset ninth-seeded Iva Majoli pulled off against the No. 1-ranked Martina Hingis to take the French title in 1997. At times, Capriati was distracted by a microphone on the court and the chanting fans during points. She found her cool at the end.

"I was close at 14," Capriati said of her French debut in 1990. "I'm just waiting to wake up from this dream."

Eleven years ago, she was the youngest player to navigate her way to the semifinals at the French. At times, she wasn't sure if she would uncover the right path back.

But Saturday, she walked on the court with the knowledge that she was the favorite against the 12th-seeded Clijsters. A day after turning 18, the freckle-faced Clijsters arrived with nothing to lose.

Clijsters was the more mentally prepared of the two to start the match. After she saved four break points on her first service game, Clijsters calmed down, took a deep breath and swung away.

Soon, it was Capriati in a huff. She was already displeased with her inability to break Clijsters, then her ruffled state went from bad to worse. She became exceptionally annoyed with an open microphone on the umpire's chair that created an echo. In between her serves in the third game, Capriati turned to the umpire and complained of the noise.

"I can't play with that," Capriati said. "Are you kidding me?"

Visibly rattled, Capriati did not win a game for the rest of the first set.

The third set opened just right for Capriati. She unleashed a series of pounding forehands and backhands to send Clijsters on a wild chase. With a forehand overhead on break point, Capriati had the lead she wanted.

She gave it right back, though. Capriati became a little sloppy on some groundstrokes, providing Clijsters with a chance to get back into the match by producing a cross-court winner to even the set at 1.

From there, Capriati couldn't shake Clijsters. With every serve her opponent held, the pressure only increased inside of Capriati. Now, she was the one supposed to put her young opponent away -- a harder task than she ever imagined.

* * *

FRENCH OPEN: Gustavo Kuerten vs. Alex Corretja, men's final, 9 a.m., Ch. 8.

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