In the spring of 2001, Jennifer Capriati admitted she felt reincarnated. That year she won her first two Grand Slam singles titles, the Australian Open and Roland Garros, and become number one in the world. At the age of 25, she had gone from ingénue to outcast to champion.
Could she go even further and win all four majors in a calendar year? In the quarters, Capriati had earned a superb win, taking out Serena Williams, 6-7, 7-5, 6-3. The tenacity Capriati had shown in this effort greatly revealed her renewed commitment to the game.
Her opponent in the semis was an ascending Belgian, Justin Henin, just off the heels of a fine run to the last four at Roland Garros. Henin’s sleek one-handed backhand had instantly captured attention. But how far could it take her?
Capriati handily took the first set, 6-2 and went up 2-1 in the second. “When you are nervous, when Capriati played so well in the first, you don’t think you can win the match like this,” said Henin afterwards. “I said, ‘OK, what’s going to happen? We’ll see what’s going to happen.”
What happened was that Henin brought out the arsenal of shots that would in time earn her seven Grand Slam singles titles. It was a different arsenal, far wider than the power baseline style that by then had become prevalent in women’s tennis. Drop shots, slice, sneak attacks, a rolling one-hander, a sharp forehand – all of it began to flow from Henin’s racquet.
From 1-2 down in the second, Henin won 11 of the next 15 games to reach her first Grand Slam singles final.
“She was hitting everything, making no mistakes,” said Capriati. “There was not much I could do.”
Capriati would go on to win one more Grand Slam, the 2002 Australian Open. She’d also play Wimbledon three more times, each year reaching the quarters.
Henin would lose that year’s Wimbledon final to Venus Williams. But that year she was just 19, an underdog. Five years later, Henin again made it to the finals, this time the favorite versus Amelie Mauresmo. Henin would lose that match too – making this seven-time Grand Slam champion one of the greatest players to have never won Wimbledon.