Capriati has faith in her rehabilitation

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The Independent Online
Tennis

Having successfully completed the latest match of her comeback, Jennifer Capriati, the embodiment of a prodigy with problems, was asked to reflect on her adolescence. "Well, I went through a lot of emotions and feelings and a pretty fun, crazy time," she said.

The fun, as we know, was quickly overtaken by disaffection. Capriati was speaking some 10 miles from Coral Gables, where, in May 1994, she was found in possession of marijuana, and which is a short distance from Miami Beach, where she spent time in a drug rehabilitation centre after her arrest.

It is proving difficult for her to live those events down, but she appears to be making a determined effort. "You can't always look back at what you should have done or what would have been better," she said. "You've just got to live in the now."

When the Lipton Championships end here next weekend, Capriati will lose her classification as a teenager (her 20th birthday is on 29 March) and gain a world ranking for the first time in nearly two years.

In order to be placed in the top 100 after her third tournament since returning last month, Capriati must advance to the quarter-finals. She needs to defeat Elena Likhovtseva, ranked No 49, and if successful, may then have to face Amanda Coetzer, the 10th seed. Further progress could lead to a meeting with Gabriela Sabatini, the No 4 seed, in the fourth round.

The first 20 minutes of Capriati's opening match against Lea Ghirardi- Rubbi, a French left-hander ranked No 86, left spectators as cold as the distinctly unseasonal Florida evening. The American lost the first five games, contributing 14 unforced errors to her opponent's confidence and winning only two points on serve.

After performing like a novice, mistiming shots which were either dumped in the net or flew out of bounds, Capriati proceeded to thrill the Stadium Court crowd with powerful, penetrative tennis reminiscent of her advent on the professional tour, when she soared to No 6 in the world. She won 13 of the next 24 games to win 7-5, 6-1.

"I just told myself to stop missing and go for it," Capriati said. "I was a little nervous at first. I haven't been playing in front of a lot of people, and you can't just go right into that like it is nothing. It turned out to be good. I was having a great time out there, especially the way the crowd was supporting me.

"I never thought I was done with tennis. I knew that it was inside me and it is what I do best. There is nothing like ripping a backhand down the line."

There was a shock yesterday for Martina Hingis, the 15-year-old Swiss, seeded No 11, who lost 5-7, 6-1, 6-3 in her opening match by Nana Miyagi, a Japanese lucky loser from the qualifying.

In the men's singles, Britain's Tim Henman advanced to a second-round meeting with Sergi Bruguera, the 10th-seeded former French Open champion, with a 6-2, 6-1 win over Steve Campbell, an American ranked 80 places below him, at No 138.

Greg Rusedski also advanced to the second round with a 6-4, 7-6 win against Justin Gimelstrob, a wild card from New Jersey, ranked No 293. Rusedski now meets Sweden's Jonas Bjorkman, who is 10 places above him at No 35.

Boris Becker, the No 5 seed, withdrew from the tournament because of a respiratory infection which has troubled him for the past month. His place in the draw was taken by Thomas Nydahl, of Sweden, a "lucky loser" from the qualifying.

Results, Sporting Digest, page 31

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