Capriati returns to Chase after 8-year absence

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The Independent Online

Jennifer Capriati has no time to dwell on who's playing. She's too excited about being back herself at Madison Square Garden and the Chase Championships.

Jennifer Capriati has no time to dwell on who's playing. She's too excited about being back herself at Madison Square Garden and the Chase Championships.

"Deep down, this was one of my goals, to be able to make it here and to the Chase," she said. "So I achieved one of my goals. Obviously I am very happy about it."

This will be Capriati's fourth trip to the WTA Tour's season-ending event, but her first in eight years. The road back to the Garden has been full of twists, turns and detours for the 24-year-old right-hander.

It wasn't all that long ago that Capriati was on the tennis scrap heap, her face on a police mug shot after drug charges and a seamy shoplifting affair. She was away from tournament tennis for two years.

But she has battled her way back tournament by tournament, winning two singles titles in 1999 and reaching the semifinals at the Australian Open in January and the round of 16 at both Wimbledon and the U.S. Open this year. She has one title in 2000, the Seat Open in Luxembourg, and reached the final of the Bell Challenge in Quebec earlier this month.

All that has added up to a No. 13 ranking and a trip to New York, where she will take on seventh-seeded Anna Kournikova in the opening round of the final championships. The tournament moves next year to Munich, Germany.

"I am just happy that I was able to play the last year that it will be there," Capriati said. "It has had many good years at the Garden.

"I am pretty excited about it. Obviously I have made some good progress and made some accomplishments to be able to qualify for this year."

Ten years ago, Capriati, then just 14, became the youngest Grand Slam semifinalist in history at the French Open and the youngest player to be ranked in the Top 10. Her Madison Square Garden stay that year was brief, dropping a tough three-setter to Steffi Graf in the opening round.

"I remember I had a couple of close matches," Capriati said. "I always seemed to play Steffi there."

The next two years - 1991 and 1992 - Capriati lost in the quarterfinals to Gabriela Sabatini.

Graf and Sabatini are retired, and the 16-player field this year was rocked with five injury withdrawals, including Wimbledon and U.S. Open champion Venus Williams, her sister Serena Williams and French Open winner Mary Pierce.

"For me, it makes it more challenging, more exciting," Capriati said. "But there are still many other great players, the hot players, I think."

Lindsay Davenport is the hottest of all after knocking off top-seeded Martina Hingis 7-6 (7), 6-4 today to win the Advanta Championships in Philadelphia. Davenport will be seeded second, behind Hingis, as she begins the defense of her Chase Championships title.

In their first-round matches in the dlrs 2 million tournament, Hingis will face Julie Halard-Decugis of France and Davenport will take on Elena Dementieva, one of two young Russians in the elite field.

The weeklong tournament gets under way Monday night, when fourth-seeded Conchita Martinez of Spain plays Elena Likhovtseva of Russia, followed by another Spaniard, No. 5 Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario, against Kim Clijsters of Belgium.

Other first-round pairings pit No. 3 Monica Seles of the United States against Sandrine Testud of France, No. 6 Nathalie Tauziat of france against Amy Frazier of the United States, and another American, No. 8 Chanda Rubin, against Amanda Coetzer of South Africa.

The singles winner will collect $500,000, with $250,000 going to the losing finalist. First-round losers will pocket $30,000.

The tournament will also feature the top eight doubles teams.