Work in Sports
Capriati reflects on resurgence
Posted: Thursday January 27, 2000 12:09 PM
MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) -- Early last year, Jennifer Capriati's comeback attempt drifted. She was out of shape. She desperately needed a push to the pinnacle of world tennis.
For two years, Capriati had struggled to reach the heights she held as a teen prodigy whose career later sank in widely publicized personal turmoil. Yet the phenomenal success that once seemed easy eluded her.
No. 2 seeded Lindsay Davenport beat her in the semifinals of the Australian Open Thursday, but the defeat was as much a triumph as a disappointment.
Capriati had reached the final four at a Grand Slam for the first time since 1991, elevating her ranking to 17th in the world. If she keeps playing well, she could secure a seeding in four months at the next Grand Slam, the French Open.
The turning point came in March when Harold Solomon, a former top 10 player whose heyday was in the 1970s, visited Capriati's Saddlebrook, Fla., home and talked freely with her for a couple of hours about her will to reach the top.
Confident of her talent, and assured of her ambition, Solomon agreed to become her full-time coach. A baseliner who used to grind down opponents with heavy topspin, he viewed Capriati with patience, a player who would take several years to find her peak.
"He was just asking me what I wanted and what I was feeling and just what I wanted to get from him working with me," Capriati, 23, said this week in Melbourne.
"He said that he really believed I could go all the way, even No. 1 maybe," said Capriati, whose flat groundstrokes make her one of the hardest hitters on the tour. "To hear that come from him, that just right there lifted my confidence."
Then followed her best season in six years: two singles titles, fourth round finishes at the French Open and the U.S. Open and a yearend ranking of 23.
In Melbourne, Davenport, who is also 23 years old, drew on qualities that Capriati has yet to harness fully -- pace, discipline and experience -- in her 6-2, 7-6 (4) win. The sentimental crowd, though, gave Capriati a standing ovation.
Capriati also had fun off the court in Melbourne, shopping and rowing with the Australian under-23 Olympic squad along the Yarra River, which runs through the city.
Capriati used to talk about what a thrill it would be to reach the top 20 again. After their first week of workouts, Solomon said he told her:
"I don't think you really realize how good you are. I can see from your game that the ability is there to be in the top 10."
The two got together after Capriati's father, Stefano, mentioned to her that Solomon was available.
"I said, 'Yeah, I've got nothing to lose at this point,'" Capriati sad.
With the help of a physical trainer, Capriati worked out in the gym and sprinted. She threw and caught "medicine balls," heavy leather-bound balls that boxers often use to build upper body strength.
Capriati also drilled with No. 1 Martina Hingis, who lives nearby.
"I think I lifted up her motivation a little bit," a smiling Hingis said Thursday after defeating Conchita Martinez to set up a weekend showdown with Davenport.
A chapter in Capriati's long recuperation came at the U.S. Open last year, where she read a statement after losing to Monica Seles in which she said she had put much of her past behind her. Then, before a roomful of reporters, she sobbed uncontrollably.
Solomon said that experience allowed Capriati to "shut the door" on her turbulent years. However, hard training lies ahead in her net game, physical fitness and other areas.
"There's not too many who can do what this girl has done," Solomon said. "She went two years and didn't hit a tennis ball."