Capriati comes full circle

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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Jennifer Capriati is still basking in the glow of her recent Australian Open success. But will the one-time teenage prodigy continue to deliver on the court following the Down Under hangover?

The 24-year-old American stunned the tennis world, and resurrected a career that was once in total ruin, with her shocking victory over world No. 1 Martina Hingis in last month's Aussie Open final. The New York native also upended world No. 4 Monica Seles and No. 2 Lindsay Davenport en route to her first-ever Grand Slam final.

Capriati fell into the abyss in the mid 1990s after taking the sport by storm as a 13-year-old phenom 11 years ago. She experienced a personal and professional free fall after being charged with misdemeanor drug and shoplifting offenses, but came all the way back a couple of weeks ago in Melbourne, becoming the lowest seed (12) to capture a women's Grand Slam title in the process.

Jennifer Capriati Jennifer Capriati lifts the Australian Open Women's Trophy after defeating Martina Hingis.
(Photo by Empics)
"I'm eager to get out there and see if I can win another one. I would love to, but right now, we'll see if I can just keep doing what I've been doing. I'm not going to put pressure on myself and say I have to win another Grand Slam title," said Capriati.

Prior to last month, Capriati's highest-ever ranking was No. 6 in 1991.

Following the championship run in Australia, the still-young American shot up to No. 7. The Top 5 will be in her future is she can keep ripping those monster forehand winners.

Capriati placed in the Top 10 from 1990-93, but after taking a self-imposed leave of absence from the tour and being arrested on shoplifting and drug possession charges, she appeared in only one tournament from September of 1993 (U.S. Open) to February of 1996.

In 1990, at the tender age of 14, Capriati became the youngest player in history to reach the Top 10 and youngest Grand Slam semifinalist at the storied French Open. The following year, she reached Wimbledon and U.S. Open semifinals, and in 1992, the bubbly star secured Olympic gold at the Barcelona Games, one of her 10 career titles.

Capriati mounted her comeback in 1996, finishing 24th in the world that year. But she plummeted to No. 101 by the end of 1998, leaving some doubt as to whether she would ever re-capture her former expertise.

She finally showed signs in 2000, finishing the year at No. 14 in the world, including an important title in Luxembourg where everyone felt that Russian beauty Anna Kournikova would finally break through for her first-ever WTA trophy. Capriati also placed herself in the 2000 Australian Open semis, where she lost to Davenport after shocking Serena Williams in the quarters. That surprising semifinal appearance marked her first one in nine years. "Cappy" avenged that round of four setback, and then some, against Davenport at this year's Melbourne fortnight.

In 1993, Capriati walked away from the game after suffering a stunning first-round loss at the U.S. Open.

After corraling the 1989 French Open junior championship, Capriati's career was surrounded by so much hype and anticipation that she received $6 million in endorsement deals before ever striking her first ball on the pro circuit.

But by the mid '90s, Capriati was spending short stints in drug rehab centers, which came at a time when her parents -- Stefano and Denise -- were having marital difficulties. The pair eventually divorced.

Media coverage of Capriati's woes at the time a word...excessive.

But with all the negative hype behind her, Capriati says she is more committed to staying in shape now than she's ever been. She helped her cause by dropping 10-15 pounds over the last year, becoming a devotee of TaeBo, the immensely-popular martial-arts-style exercise program.

Father Stefano is back serving as Capriati's coach, after a year under the tutelage of Harold Solomon. She has always been comfortable with her father, and feels he has her best interests in mind, which wasn't always the case with her "people" a decade ago.

Capriati will return to the courts for the February 19-25 IGA Superthrift Tennis Classic, and expectations will be sky high in Oklahoma City.

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