Jennifer Capriati yesterday urged the rising generation of players to hire a personal physiotherapist before even thinking about the usual retinue of coaches, trainers and agents.
The 27-year-old former prodigy, who continues to play because she loves the sport and is "scared" of retiring, showed customary spirit on returning to the court here at the Dubai Women's Open for her first match since last November. But the American third seed lacked the fitness to avoid losing 6-4, 7-6 to the sturdy, resolute Eleni Daniilidou, of Greece.
Capriati, who made her debut on the WTA Tour at the age of 13 and crowned a turbulent career by rising to No 1 in the world in 2001, has a degenerative back condition. "The problem is never going to go away," she said. "I'm trying to strengthen my back as best I can and do what I can with cortisone injections and keeping it loose."
She added: "A lot of it has to do with genetics, the way a body is made. A lot of people can play a long time and not feel anything. But you have to go with modern times, and I think having a full-time personal trainer would help prolong players' careers."
Capriati, who had defeated the 35th-ranked Daniilidou in their three previous hard-fought matches, said her back began to ache towards the end of the second set yesterday. "I got a bit fatigued, and probably a third set would have been too much for me," she added.
None the less, Capriati threatened to unnerve her opponent when Daniilidou served for the match at 5-3 in the second set, saving three match points with impressive passing shots, two on the backhand, the other with a trademark forehand flourish.
When it came to the tie-break, both players looked weary after competing in a warm wind strong enough to persuade the umpire to remove the parasol from above her chair. Daniilidou found the weight of shot to pull away at 3-2, winning the concluding four points of the shoot-out, including her fourth match point.
Daniilidou said: "Before the match I told my coach, 'I'm just going to go out and fight'. I stayed very aggressive, as you have to do against the top players, who don't give you many chances. I knew how difficult it was going to be for Jennifer coming back from injury, because I was once injured for six or seven months."
As Capriati was battling her way to the tie-break, her compatriot Venus Williams twirled into the interview room wearing a broad smile, a pink cap and pink and white silk singlets over a pink tulle mini-skirt. Williams wore the "floaty" ensemble, a gift from the fashion designer Nicole Fahri when she stopped off in London en route to Dubai, to show how pleased she was with her performance.
"I've not been so excited to win an opening match since winning my first match ever," Williams said after starting her latest comeback from injury with a 6-3, 6-4 victory against Alicia Molik, of Australia, who had two break points in the first set and two more in the second set of a match that lasted 82 minutes.
"I'm counting my blessings," Williams added. "My stomach muscle is OK, my leg is a lot better, and I'm at the point where I can step on the court and give it a go. I need to practise a lot more, but the fact is today I played a really good player who was really determined. You could see it in her face."
Justin Henin-Hardenne, of Belgium, the world No 1 and defending champion, recovered from 2-0 down in the second set to advance to the third round with a 6-1, 7-5 win against Selima Sfar, of Tunisia.
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