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Twenty Years Ago, a Tennis Comeback in Australia Like No Other



The day that Jennifer Capriati performed the match of her profession was sweltering.

It was late January 2002, and Capriati, then 25, was going through Martina Hingis, 21, within the girls’s ultimate of the Australian Open in Melbourne. The situations had been so oppressive — on-court temperatures reached 115 Fahrenheit (46 Celsius) — that each gamers slumped towards stadium backdrops between factors, even after bathing in ice throughout a 10-minute break between the second and third units. They even took turns plopping their worn-out our bodies down in a lineswoman’s chair.

It’s been 20 years since Capriati came back from a set and 4-0 all the way down to defeat Hingis 4-6, 7-6 (9-7), 6-2 and declare the third and ultimate main of her profession. In doing so, she grew to become the primary lady in Grand Slam historical past to avoid wasting 4 match factors and win the title.

“The best way they each had been hitting in that match was simply superb,” mentioned Harold Solomon, Capriati’s coach from 1999 to 2000. “Jennifer was an incredible ball striker as a result of she took the ball so early and she or he wasn’t afraid, even when she was down. She was pretty much as good an athlete as anybody who has ever been within the sport, and that features the Williams sisters.”

The match would go down as one of many best comebacks in girls’s Grand Slam tennis historical past. No lady since has saved 4 match factors to win a serious ultimate.

Capriati had her skilled debut in March 1990, simply earlier than her 14th birthday and reached the semifinals of the French Open that yr and the spherical of 16 at Wimbledon and the US Open. By the tip of the season she had gained her first WTA match and was ranked inside the world’s prime 10.

Hingis was additionally a baby prodigy. She reached her first U.S. Open semifinal in 1996 when she was 15 years previous. The next yr she superior to the finals of all 4 majors, profitable Wimbledon and the Australian and U.S. Opens.

In 1992, Capriati beat Steffi Graf to win gold on the Barcelona Olympics. However a collection of occasions in 1993 and ’94, together with a shoplifting cost, an arrest for marijuana possession and a stint in drug rehab, practically derailed her profession.

However Capriati fought her means again, and in 2001 she gained the Australian Open by beating Hingis, the world No. 1. Capriati adopted that up with a win over Kim Clijsters within the ultimate of the French Open and semifinal finishes at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. In October 2001, Capriati grew to become No. 1 on the earth.

“Willpower and can had been all the time sturdy fits for Jennifer,” mentioned Denise Capriati, Jennifer’s mom, by telephone from her Florida house. “She all the time knew the way to combat.”

However no match was as placing because the 2002 Australian final. Hingis raced to a 6-4, 4-0 lead and held a degree for 5-0. She did so through the use of Capriati’s blistering tempo to hit brief angles adopted by forays to the online and tender contact volley winners.

However Hingis double-faulted on a key level and Capriati took benefit. She saved one match level with a backhand down-the-line winner and one other after a 14-stroke rally. Two extra match factors glided by the wayside within the tiebreaker prompting Hingis to toss her racket in disgust earlier than each gamers left the courtroom for the cool of the locker room.

“At that time, we knew Jennifer had the match,” mentioned her mom, who was seated within the gamers’ field. “She was higher within the warmth.”

Hingis had leg cramps and was handled after the fifth sport of the third set. Within the subsequent sport she served three inexplicable foot faults and handed the essential break to Capriati.

“I actually don’t know the way I managed to win,” Capriati mentioned on the time. “I received my second wind, third wind, fourth wind, I don’t know what number of winds on the market.”

For Hingis, who reached the Australian ultimate six straight years, profitable the title from 1997 to ’99, the loss was devastating. “It was a tricky ultimate for her to lose, and it’s troublesome for her to speak about/need to replicate,” Natasha Marks, her consultant, mentioned in a textual content message. Hingis declined to be interviewed for this text.

Capriati didn’t reply to repeated telephone and textual content messages.

After the hype early in her profession, Capriati engineered her personal free fall after which her personal resurgence. The 2002 Australian Open was the end result.

“She wished it so dangerous,” Denise mentioned. “She had fought so exhausting and achieved so many issues. She was so disciplined to return again. She was doing it only for herself.”

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