Capriati tries to bounce back again Ex-prodigy starts anew at 22 with a far-court win


WIMBLEDON, England -- Jennifer Capriati used to be a tennis phenom. Now, she's a cautionary tale.

At 14, she was the bright hope of the women's tour, a giggling millionaire with an entourage, a string of endorsements and a seemingly unlimited future. Now, she's 22, a survivor of burnout and stifled comebacks.

Yesterday, Capriati returned to Wimbledon for the first time since 1993. She had a wild-card entry and a match far from the Centre Court stage against Australia's Nicole Pratt.

Capriati won, 6-4, 3-6, 6-4. She displayed some of the moves that once made her a force in the women's game. She still has a sizzling forehand and ground strokes that are slashed with the efficiency of a metronome. Yet her fitness remains suspect.

Now, she's trying to regain lost youth, rebuild her career and reclaim the joy of playing a sport she once loved.

"I really just was pumped up," Capriati said. "I was really excited to be there. I wasn't too nervous."

Capriati has fallen far and fast from glory, when she was billed as the next Chris Evert. She once played in Grand Slam semifinals at Roland Garros, Flushing Meadow and Wimbledon. She won the 1992 Olympic gold medal in Barcelona, Spain.

And then it all fell apart.

There were arrests for shoplifting and marijuana possession. Her family also suffered with her parents getting a divorce.

Capriati vowed to get off the tour and enjoy the childhood she missed. But the game kept tugging at her. She tried a few comebacks but hit roadblocks. She had injuries. She had trouble getting in shape. And she had trouble coping with defeats.

Asked about her present state, she said: "I mean, we could be here all day for that, you know. That could take a year.

"Whatever I'm doing, it's what I want to be doing. I just try to be happy on the court as well as off the court, just to keep a balance."

Did she enjoy the attention in her youth?

"I don't like a lot of hype and a lot of attention and all that," she said.

It's the game that keeps driving her. She talks of getting a full-time coach. And she has a hope of climbing to the top of the sport.

"I have to believe in myself. I can go all the way," she said. "If I don't believe that, I see no point of me being here."

Whether she ever gets to No. 1, or even No. 5, Capriati said what matters is simply doing her best.

Would she have changed the past?

"No, I have no regrets at all," she said.

Pub Date: 6/25/98

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