Pleasure out of pain for Pierce and Capriati

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Le retournement de situation is the rather long-winded phrase the French use for it. Elsewhere, it is known simply as the comeback. Call it what you want, Mary Pierce and Jennifer Capriati know all about the painful process.

No wonder then, they expressed such pleasure at reaching the second week of Wimbledon. Capriati, who is starting to play the sort of tennis one has come to expect of her, had to overcome a shoulder injury on her way to defeating Akiko Morigami 6-4 6-4. "It's just a minor kink," the eighth seed said. "I'm fine and feel ready to try to win my first Wimbledon."

Doing so will require a major change in fortunes, as she has never gone beyond the semi-finals in SW19. "I feel like I'm doing all the important things right," she said, "so there's no reason why I can't beat any of the top seeds during the second week."

As for Pierce, she now admits that she very nearly did not come to The Championships at all this year. Perhaps this explains the broad smile she wore following her three-set success against Lisa Raymond. "I'm just happy, relieved," she said. "This match really meant a lot because I played with my heart. My game's not back to where it was yet, so I'm having to be mentally tough and fight."

Pierce and Capriati could have a degree in trauma. Both have endured psychological as well as physical setbacks throughout their careers, going from the sublime during their Grand Slam wins, to the ridiculous in their often very public private lives. Both are also the products of obsessive, and often destructive, fathers. Unlike Capriati, though, Pierce did not stick with her dad when the going got tough off court. In fact, a restraining order was the only way the American-born Frenchwoman could free herself from Jim Pierce's shackles.

Since the split in the mid-Nineties, Pierce has sometimes had to fight quite different battles, most notably with injuries and weight. When she has both demons under control, there is no stopping her, as she proved so conclusively at the Australian Open in 1995 and the French in 2000. However, when one, or indeed both, take over, she has a tendency to go AWOL for months. "Injuries have not been kind to me," the 28-year-old admitted.

Her recent career is littered with troubles, starting with shoulder problems during her success at Roland Garros, followed by an abdominal strain early last year and then a seven-month lay-off due to a bad back. "This last one was the worst," she said, "because I was in so much pain even when just doing everyday things. I couldn't walk without feeling it, and there were times when I thought that was that."

Pierce's latest comeback almost ended as soon as it started, as she fell at the first hurdle of the French. "I honestly thought I would stop there," she said. "I was so disgusted with myself." Then came Sven Groeneveld, the man who coaxed Greg Rusedski back to fitness and form in 2002. "I wasn't going to come to Wimbledon," Pierce said, "but he persuaded me that I should and I'm pleased I did now."

So she should be. Her win against Raymond showed that she still has the game and desire to compete at the highest level. Raymond showed her all-round experience on Court 18 yesterday by staying back a lot more than usual. Her tactic certainly worked in the first set, as Pierce appeared to be unfit and, more worryingly still, incapable of upping her game.

And then, out of nowhere, came the turnaround. Trailing 15-30 on her opening service game of the second set, she suddenly dropped her racket in disgust before extending her arms and then performing a dramatic shake of the hands. It looked like some sort of voodoo cleansing, and it worked wonders, as she rushed into a 3-0 lead and took the set 6-3.

The decider was a far tighter affair, with both players holding their nerve and serve until the 11th game. Raymond's first serve decided to go walkabout, and the American soon followed, as Pierce wrapped the set up 7-5. "The comeback is by no means complete," she said, "but I'm on my way." We will know exactly how far she has come tomorrow, when she faces her sternest test yet against Justine Henin-Hardenne, who defeated Alicia Molik in two sets. Meanwhile, Capriati is up against one of the new Russian sensations, Anastasia Myskina.

Pierce and Capriati have learned not to look too far ahead - particularly with the favourite Serena Williams looking ominously good in their half of the draw following her 6-3 6-1 demolition of Laura Granville yesterday - but they could meet in the semi-finals. "The ultimate battle of the comeback queens, hey?" Pierce said with a smile.

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