Jennifer Fights for Her Life Grab Women’s Crown

Jennifer Capriati

We started TennisReporters.net in May 2001, 20 years ago. We have posted well over 1,500 articles.

As coronavirus began to strike the tennis world, Indian Wells cancelled the tournament on March 9. Right after that, the tournaments pulled out quickly, including Miami, Barcelona, Madrid, Rome and Roland Garros. Now, the WTA and the ATP have shut down until June 7. Or even further. No one really knows.

However, if you love tennis, you can reminisce with TennisReporters.net. We are resurfacing many of our best stories, written by Matthew Cronin.

FROM PARIS (2001): With a smile that reached all the way around the Seine, Jennifer Capriati celebrated the most important title of her career after she willed her way past Kim Clijsters 1-6, 6-4, 12-10 in a nail biting final at Roland Garros on Saturday.

“I was fighting to the end, for my life out there. I just wanted to  win so bad,” Capriati said of two hour and 21 minute sweatfest. “Afterwards, it just all paid off, all the fight. I’m really happy and relieved.”

Sharing seemingly never-ending hugs with her family after a gut-wrenching victory over a more than game opponent, Capriati lit up Roland Garros by beaming toward to sky.

“It doesn’t seem real,” said Capriati to her mother Denise after winning her second straight Grand Slam title.

“It is real,” replied Denise. “You won it with your big heart.”

Capriati dedicated the victory to fellow player Corina Morariu, who is currently undergoing chemotherapy in a Florida hospital for a rare form of leukemia.

“I just wanted to show that my heart is with her,” Capriati said. “We’re all players. It really hits home when something like that happens.”

A heavy favorite entering the contest, a nervous Capriati was completely out of sorts in the first set, becoming distracted by the chair umpire’s microphone  and complained loudly to her.

“I can’t play that microphone,” she said to the umpire. “Are you kidding me? Turn that thing off. Don’t you have a switch?”

According to her mother, Capriati became tense last night while watching television and seeing one of her mentors, Chris Evert, saying that she was favorite to win the title and it was her time to shine in Paris.  Unlike last year when she never entered an event the favorite, Capriati is now widely considered the best player in the world.

“The expectations were on her,” Denise said. “After what Chrissie said, she gave me a look and I knew that she was affected. Everyone was expecting her to win today and that’s not easy.”

Unlike in her previous matches, Capriati was unable to dictate play early, as she moved slowly and dumped numerous groundstrokes into the net. The 18-year-old Clijsters dominated the first set, running beautifully and and keeping her hard groundstrokes deep. Capriati committed a whopping 25 unforced errors in the set and said she was upset by a l
arge contingent of vocal Belgian fans.

But after changing rackets down 0-1 in the second set, Capriati regrouped and began to stand in more confidently in the neck-breaking rallies. Even though Clijsters wowed the crowd with her retrieving abilities, she was unable to control her huge forehand at key moments. Capriati broke her to go ahead 3-2 when Clijsters hit a forehand long and held on to win the set when the Belgian missed a forehand down the line.

While the first two sets were error strewn, both attacking baselines raised their games in the third set. Capriati broke Clijsters to open the set with by bashing away a forehand volley, but the 18-year-old broke her right back when Capriati dumped a backhand.

Both players served extremely well in the set, with Clijsters moving her serves all over the box and confusing her foe and Capriati  frequently jamming Clijsters with hard serves into the body. At 6-6 and deuce , Clijsters tried to sneak in a drop shot, but it fell into the net. Capriati then broke her to 7-6 when the teen missed a backhand.

But Capriati was unable to consolidate the break when she committed  series of shaky errors. “I couldn’t watch. I felt like I was having a heart attack,” said her brother and hitting partner, Stephen.

 Clijsters was two points from the match on a two occasions, but never could control the center of the court. Serving at 9-9, the Belgian started out sloppily, double faulting and committing a bad forehand error. Capriati gained a a break point and quickly cashed in, emphatically circling a ball mark three times after Clijsters missed a forehand down the line to go up 10-9.

But the 24-year-old Floridian against couldn’t hold, when Clijsters passed her with a forehand that clipped the net cord and bounced over her shoulder.

However, Capriati made another charge, breaking her younger foe with a decisive overhead smash. She convincingly served out the match, winning it it a seeing-eye inside-out forehand winner.

“I just watched and prayed,” said Denise. “But she worked through it. I  knew she wasn’t going to give up without a fight. In the last game, she finally said, ‘I’m going for it,” and she did.”

The No. 4-ranked Capriati’s resurgence from a once burnt out teen phenom who left the tour for nearly four year’s to hottest player of 2001 is a remarkable story.

“She has the confidence and will, the motivation and desire,” said Stephen of hsi older sister, who also won the ’01 Aussie Open. “She can beat anybody right now. If she can beat the best players on the biggest stage, she’s the best.”

Jennifer, who reached the semis here as 14-year-old, said that while she was growing up, she could never imagine holding up the trophy on Philippe Chatrier Court.

“It’s a surreal feeling,” she said. “I never thought Roland Garros. Maybe I thought this would be the hardest one or the last one for me to win. I was having chills up there thinking about it.”

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