Capriati comes back in Paris

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The Independent Online
Tennis

JOHN ROBERTS

Jennifer Capriati will return to the sport in Paris next week, encouraged, no doubt, by the successful rehabilitation of Monica Seles, and keen to defend her Olympic Games singles title in Atlanta.

The one-time American prodigy, whose disaffection with the professional tour led to an arrest for shoplifting and a problem with drugs, has been given a wild card for the Open Gaz de France.

Capriati's second attempt to revive her career comes less than two months before her 20th birthday. She has played only one match in almost two and a half years since losing to the Georgian Leila Meskhi in the first round of the 1993 United States Open.

That defeat was hard for Capriati to take. The previous year she lost in the third round to the unseeded Canadian Patricia Hy, having returned with the gold medal she won in Barcelona with a victory against Steffi Graf in the Olympic final.

Capriati's last appearance was in Philadelphia in November 1994. Although she gave a spirited performance in losing a first-round match against Germany's Anke Huber, who went on to win the tournament, it did not provide the impetus to sustain a comeback.

Capriati began to fall apart in September 1993, when a simmering rebellion against the influence of her father, Stefano, developed into a full-scale revolt. She had experienced nothing but tennis, making her professional debut at Boca Raton, Florida, 23 days before her 14th birthday. Before striking a ball, she had attracted long-term tennis clothing and racket contracts estimated to be worth $5m (pounds 3.25m).

At 14, she was the youngest Grand Slam semi-finalist, at the French Open; the youngest player to be seeded, at Wimbledon, and the youngest to win a match at the All England Club. At 15, she beat Martina Navratilova to become the youngest Wimbledon semi-finalist.

Before her name disappeared from the world rankings in 1994, because of inactivity, she had risen as high as No 6 and had added $1.49m (pounds 975,000) in prize money to the fortune from sponsorships and endorsements.

In 1991, she appeared with Seles on the cover of the Forbes Magazine listing the world's 40 highest-paid athletes, but the income began to diminish when personal problems manifested themselves in misdemeanours attracting world-wide publicity.

In December 1993, Capriati was arrested in Florida for taking a ring from a shop without paying for it. In January 1994, she returned to school, but later that year police found her in possession of marijuana, and she spent time on a drug rehabilitation programme.

Capriati and Seles are represented by the International Management Group, who helped smooth the path for Seles's return with an exhibition match against Navratilova in Atlantic City last July. And it was they, as the organisers of next week's Paris tournament, who announced the wild card for Capriati yesterday.

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