2001 Sportsman of the Year
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 December 18 cover
Photograph by Jon Buckle
The journey was especially torturous, but Jennifer Capriati is finally great. In 2001 she at last exceeded the expectations that were foisted upon her a decade ago, when she was hailed as the heiress apparent to Chris Evert. At age 25, after years of personifying burnout and too-much-too-soon, she blossomed to win two majors and seize the No. 1 ranking from Martina Hingis, who'd held the position for 209 weeks. "It was like a movie: Will Jennifer make it back?" says Hingis. "We knew that she had a ton of talent, but I don't think anyone would have guessed the story would have gone like this."
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Text by L. Jon Wertheim
Issue date: December/January 2002

At an age when many professional tennis players start contemplating retirement, Jennifer Capriati mounted one of the most impressive comebacks in the history of the game. In 2001, the 25-year-old Florida native proved she could still compete at an elite level by winning the year's first two majors and reaching the semifinals of its second two. For Capriati -- who turned pro at 13 and dropped off the tour four years later because of drug and personal problems -- simply playing tennis again would have been a significant feat. Capriati's resurgence began in January when she arrived at the Australian Open in peak condition and stunned top seed Martina Hingis 6-4, 6-3 to win her first career Grand Slam title. Proving her performance Down Under was no fluke, in early June Capriati survived a showdown with Kim Clijsters in the French Open final to become the first American woman since Chris Evert in 1986 to win in Paris. At Wimbledon, Capriati tore through the opening rounds, riding a 19-match Grand Slam win streak into her semifinals faceoff against Justine Henin. Though the Belgian teenager rallied to win 2-6, 6-4, 6-2 and end Capriati's bid for a Slam sweep, Capriati used the energy and competitive drive she had been fueled by all year to reach her first U.S. Open semifinals in a decade. After jumping out to a 4-1 first-set lead against eventual champion Venus Williams, Capriati faded and ultimately lost 6-4, 6-2. Though disappointed by the defeat, Capriati closed out the 2001 Slam season with grace, and in mid-October displaced Hingis to become the world's No. 1 player for the first time in her career. Capriati came out of the year with something far more important than titles and a top-ranking, however: renewed confidence, "Dreams do come true," said Capriati. "if you keep believing in yourself."

  • Sports Illustrated, February 5, 2001: Jenny Come Lately
  • Sports Illustrated, June 18, 2001: Vive L'Amour
  • Frank Deford: Capriati hits an ace
  • Mary Carillo: Capriati an inspiration
  • Terry Baddoo: Admiring Capriati's class
  • 2001 Australian Open: CNNSI.com's complete coverage
  • 2001 French Open: CNNSI.com's complete coverage
  • Capriati: By the Numbers
  • 2000 Sportswoman of the Year: Venus Williams

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