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Capriati in shadow of rivals
- Wimbledon 2003 l ‘I am a fighter. Others give up, but I don’t. I just dig deeper’

Eastbourne: Jennifer Capriati may not even rate a showcourt to display her famous fighting spirit next week when she plays her first round at Wimbledon against Switzerland’s Myriam Casanova.

The 27-year-old American is seeded eight in a draw crowded with talent and will start the tournament deep in the shadow of the Williams sisters and Belgian duo Justine Henin-Hardenne and Kim Clijsters.

Even compatriot Chanda Rubin, who is defending her Wimbledon warm-up Eastbourne title this week, has crept above the former Australian and French Open champion in the rankings despite never going beyond a Grand Slam semi-final.

It is a far cry from two years ago when Capriati was hailed at the All England Club as the all-conquering comeback heroine who looked on her way to a Grand Slam of all four top championships, finally putting behind her the wilderness years of teenage rebellion.

With the Australian and French Open titles under her belt Capriati looked invincible but she was felled in the semi-finals by Henin.

But with characteristic spirit, Capriati resumed her battles, reaching the semi-finals of the US Open, becoming world No. 1 and successfully defending her Australian title in January 2002.

Since then, however, she has had a lean time. She was bothered by sunspots and decided on surgery at the end of last year.

Returning to top-level competition perhaps a little too early, she earned the dubious distinction of becoming the first defending champion in the Open era to be knocked out in the first round at the Australian Open.

For a player who had broken so many happier records — youngest player to reach a professional final at 13 years 11 months, youngest semi-finalist at Wimbledon, youngest woman to surpass $1 million in prize money — it was a hard blow.

“Probably if I hadn’t been the defending champion I wouldn’t have shown up. I’m not trying to make excuses but I have to say it had a lot to do with my preparation,” a visibly shaken Capriati said after losing 2-6, 7-6, 6-4 to the 90th-ranked German Marlene Weingartner.

Losing at the French Open last month proved another blow after a series of encouraging results in the run-up including three semi-final appearances, a final at home in Miami and the quarter final in Rome.

Hard work and battling have been the American’s watchwords since her comeback. She spent two years completely off the circuit in the mid-1990s during which she fell out with her coach and father Stefano and was picked up by police for drugs and shoplifting offences.

As she has said herself: “I am a fighter. Others give up, but I don’t I just dig deeper.”

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