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Second Serve


By Nick Georgandis

By the start of the 2001 season, Jennifer Capriati could easily make the claim of being the oldest 24 year old on the planet.
It had been 11 years since she turned pro at 13 years, 11 months, 10 years since she joined the Top 10 for the first time and eight years since she took more than a years' break from the sport after feeling burned out. In that same time span, she was charged with shoplifting and possession of marijuana.
She was a non-factor on the WTA tour from 1996-1998, before slowly returning to form and finishing No. 23 in the world in 1999 and No. 14 in 2000.
Capriati started off 2001 by winning the Australian Open, her first ever Grand Slam, by beating No. 4 Monica Seles, No. 2 Linsday Davenport and No. 1 Martina Hingis in sucession. She was the No. 4 seed entering the French, with a 28-5 record on the year.
Meanwhile, Belgium's Kim Clijsters was enjoying her own version of what Capriati had once been. Just 17 at the start of the 2001 Roland Garros tournament, Clijsters had jumped from 409th in the world in 1998 to 47th in 1999 to 18th in 2000. She had started off 2001 with a trip to the Indian Wells final, and was the 12th seed at the French Open.
From the outset, the tournament title looked up for grabs. Defending champion Pierce and third-seed Davenport both were missing due to injuries, while No. 2 seeded Venus Williams and No. 5 seed Amelie Mauresmo were both victims of first-round upsets. Capriati did not lose a set in the first four rounds, while Clijstesr had to hang on for a 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 win in the fourth round against Slovakian upstart Henrieta Nagyova, ranked No. 131 in the world before upsetting No. 7 Elena Dementieva in the second round.
Both finalists crushed the quarterfinal competition, and Capriati showed she still had No. 1 Hingis' number in the semifinals with a 6-4, 6-3 conquest. Clijsters had far more trouble with fellow Belgian Justine Henin in the other semi. The player who would become Clijsters' chief rival over time took the first set, but eventually fell 2-6, 7-5, 6-3.
In the final, Clijsters was merciless in her 6-1 first-set victory, but Capriati regrouped to take the second set 6-4. The American continued to take the advantage in the third set, and had two match points at 7-6 and 10-9, but could not close out either time. After all of her powerful shots, it was a weak return that touched the top of the tape and limped over that broke Clijsters' back, as Capriati became the first woman since Seles in 1992 to win the first two majors of the year.
The season would be the most memorable of Capriati's career. She reached the semifinals at Wimbledon and the US Open and took over the No. 1 ranking that October. She repeated as champion at Australia in 2002.
Clijsters' career wasn't too shabby, either. Although she never won Roland Garros (she made the final again in 2003), she won four Slams - the US Open in 2005, 2009 and 2010, and the Australian Open in 2011.