Capriati relaunches her career again

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The Independent Online
SIMON O'HAGAN

reports from Paris

Nearly six years ago Jennifer Capriati was 14 and carefree when, at the 1990 French Open, she became the youngest ever semi-finalist in a Grand Slam tournament, a record she still holds. Tonight she steps on to another court in Paris in a second attempt to salvage a career which now reads like a blueprint of how premature sporting celebrity can ruin young lives.

A month away from her 20th birthday and with most traces of gangly girlhood gone from her physique, Capriati has chosen the Open Gaz de France, a women's indoor tournament taking place a couple of miles from Roland Garros, to find out if she still has the hunger to return to the heights she conquered in the early 1990s.

Once ranked No 6 in the world, the girl from Florida with the huge smile and an even bigger forehand dropped out of the game after losing in the first round of the 1993 US Open. Quite how far she had fallen became apparent in December that year, when she faced shoplifting charges, later dropped, and in May 1994, she was arrested for possession of drugs.

In November 1994, a much heralded comeback took place at a tournament in Philadelphia, and although she lost in the first round to the German, Anke Huber, she was still, in theory, on course. But illness and injury cost her a place in last year's Australian Open, and that was just about the last anybody heard of her until the beginning of this month.

For her first-round match Capriati has avoided any of the seeded players. Even so, it will be a tall order for her to get past the steady Belgian, Sabine Appelmans, ranked No 25 in the world. The two have never met. Huber, whom Capriati could meet in the quarter-finals, and Iva Majoli of Croatia are seeded to meet in the final.

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