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With two titles down, Capriati looks toward third

6/10/2001

PARIS -- For Jennifer Capriati, two fresh obstacles loom on
the way to a Grand Slam: Venus Williams and grass.

Capriati plans to spend a few days in Paris celebrating the
title she won Saturday at Roland Garros.

But later this week, she'll begin preparations for the short
grass-court season. And when Wimbledon begins June 25, Capriati
will be the co-favorite, along with defending champion Williams.

As this year's Australian and French Open champion, Capriati is
halfway to a rare Grand Slam sweep. Only three women and two men
have won all four major events in the same year, most recently
Steffi Graf in 1988.

"I feel comfortable on the grass," Capriati said. "I can't
wait to get on it."

Her biggest hurdle at Wimbledon will be the 6-foot-1 Williams,
the only top player Capriati has yet to beat this year. Their lone
meeting in 2001 came in the final at the Ericsson Open, where
Williams erased eight match points to win a sloppy but exciting
three-setter.

Williams was the dominant player the second half of last year,
winning Wimbledon, the U.S. Open and gold medals in singles and
doubles at the Olympics.

But Capriati has been the top player the first half of this
year. The hard-hitting Floridian resurrected a career once derailed
by drugs and personal problems to fulfill the promise shown 11
years ago, when she reached the Roland Garros semifinals in her
first major event at age 14.

While Williams was a first-round upset victim at this year's
French, Capriati extended her Grand Slam winning streak to 14
matches. At Roland Garros she beat Serena Williams and top-ranked
Martina Hingis, then outlasted emerging Belgian star Kim Clijsters
in a marathon final, 1-6, 6-4, 12-10.

"I'm quite sure you'll win more Grand Slams this year,"
Clijsters told Capriati during the trophy ceremony.

At 25, Capriati is in the best shape of her career, which helped
her survive two grueling weeks on clay to become the first American
women's champion at the French since Chris Evert in 1986. The
demands are different on grass, where short points and low bounces
are the norm, but Capriati is confident she can adapt.

"I return well," she said. "I also can serve well -- the grass
will help there. And my net game is really improved."

Capriati had a 16-4 record in her first four appearances at
Wimbledon, including a trip to the semifinals 10 years ago at age
15. Then came her hiatus from the women's tour. She lost in the
second round in 1998 and 1999, then reached the fourth round last
year.

"She has always done well there," said her younger brother and
practice partner, Steven. "I think grass is her best surface, the
way she hits the ball -- so fast and so hard. On grass that works to
her advantage because the ball just skids."

Capriati learned the game on hard courts, the surface at the U.S.
Open. She smiled when asked which Grand Slam event is the most
difficult for her to win.

"Well, I haven't won every Grand Slam, so I don't know which
one," she said coyly. "We'll have to see how it goes."

Capriati, whose career unraveled in the international spotlight,
said she has learned how to deal with media scrutiny. That will be
put to the test at Wimbledon, where the London tabloids may devote
more attention to Capriati than even Anna Kournikova.

"It's fine," Capriati said. "I'll keep it at arm's length. As
long as I can practice and do what I have to do, it's fine. I'll
kind of just ignore it because I don't like being the big focus."

Perhaps if she reaches the Wimbledon final, she can share the
spotlight with Williams.