Capriati eager to escape from injury nightmare

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The thought that her career might be over frightened Jennifer Capriati so much that the 27-year-old American could not wait to compete again at the Dubai Women's Open here this week.

After missing last month's Australian Open, the first Grand Slam championship of the season, because of a back injury, Capriati said she began to philosophise about what her life would be like without tennis.

"I said to myself: 'What if I can't come back and play?' That thought scared me. I wanted to be the one to decide when it was going to be over and I knew I wasn't ready." Capriati has earned the right to determine her own future by overcoming a series of personal problems as a teenager and reaching her potential by winning the Australian and French Open titles and becoming the world No 1.

However, recently, as three months of inactivity crept by, Capriati began to take stock. "I thought, 'Well, I've had a great career. There's nothing I regret or am ashamed of'," she said.

This time last year, this emirate was the setting for Capriati's last comeback after a month's absence to recover from surgery to remove pterygiums (spots caused by bright sunlight) from her retina. She went on to reach the final and held a match point against Justine Henin-Hardenne.

Capriati admitted yesterday that she was able to deal with the worry about her eye problems far more easily than when back pain struck late last year.

"It seemed that the wear and tear of the last couple of years had caught up with me," she said. "I felt physically and mentally drained."

Capriati finally convinced herself that it was worth making the effort to prolong her career. "I thought of the players who did not win anything until late in their careers," she said.

So Capriati went back to work on the practice courts and decided to return to this city, which she enjoyed on her first visit last year. This time she has persuaded her mother, Denise, to accompany her along with her father, Stefano, who is also her coach.

"I have no expectations at all," Capriati said, "and I don't want people to have expectations of me, because I don't know what is going to happen. I shall just be thinking of trying to get through it. After missing Australia, I'm just happy to be here."

Given a bye in the opening round, Capriati, seeded third behind Henin-Hardenne and Venus Williams, probably will play her first match tomorrow, against either Tina Pisnik, of Slovenia, and Eleni Daniilidiu, of Greece.

Henin-Hardenne, the Belgian world No 1, has recovered from the bout of bronchitis that caused her to withdraw from last week's tournament in Antwerp. Williams has recovered from the strained stomach muscle injury that forced her to withdraw from the quarter-finals of the tournament in Tokyo earlier this month.