PARIS -- The question arose early last week: What would be a good story for Jennifer Capriati at the French Open?
"Find my Prince Charming," she answered with a laugh.
Instead, Capriati is immersed in a different kind of fairy tale, a riches-to-rags-to-riches fable. The latest chapter has her playing in her first French Open final Saturday against 18-year-old Belgian Kim Clijsters.
Capriati was the belle of Roland Garros once before, as the youngest semifinalist in Grand Slam history in her first major tournament. That was in 1990, when she was 14.
"It all seems like a blur, that time back then," she said.
Then drugs and personal problems derailed her promising career, and from 1994 to 2000 she won only three matches at the French Open.
But so far this year she's 13-0 in majors. She made an unexpected breakthrough by winning her first Grand Slam title at the Australian Open in January, and six consecutive wins in Paris - including victories over top-ranked Martina Hingis and Serena Williams - have made her the hottest player in the women's game.
"She lives for tennis right now," Hingis said. "Maybe she hasn't done that always in the past."
The fourth-seeded Capriati, who received treatment for tendinitis in her right knee during her semifinal win over Hingis, practiced Friday and said she felt fine. With a victory Saturday she would become the first woman to sweep the year's first two major tournaments since Monica Seles in 1992.
Against Clijsters, the first Belgian to reach a Grand Slam final, Capriati will be a heavy favorite - sentimental and otherwise. The 12th-seeded Clijsters has yet to confront anyone seeded higher than 14th, thanks to a series of upsets in her half of the draw that claimed Venus Williams, Amelie Mauresmo and Jelena Dokic.
"I feel like I still have to keep my feet on the ground," Clijsters said. "I'm not out of the tournament yet, so I have to focus."
Focus should be no problem for Capriati, now merely amused by media attention that once overwhelmed her. And at 25, she has learned how to minimize off-court distractions.
"She'd be happy going home after this, watching TV on the couch and playing with her dogs," said her younger brother and practice partner, Steven. "That makes her happier than a $1 million shopping spree in Paris."
Capriati's relationship with her family, strained at times in the past, has never been better. Her father and first coach, Stefano, whose tactics were criticized when her career unraveled, began coaching her again last year.
"Sometimes children say, 'My God, my father and mother have learned so much lately,"' Stefano said with a laugh. "Our relationship is great."
Denise Capriati is also in Paris, attending her first tournament since undergoing hip replacement surgery two months ago. Her face became flush with emotion as she discussed her daughter's tumultuous teen-age years.
"So much happened so soon," she said. "There was such a big hype. Nobody gave us a book on how this should work. The first year it was exciting and there was no pressure. Then you succeed and there are expectations, and school work becomes harder and you're traveling a lot.
"You kind of have to go through it. It's trials. It's tribulations. It's life. It makes this sweeter for the whole family."
Personal issues aside, Capriati's comeback is largely the result of improved conditioning and increased confidence, which go hand in hand. She tamed a persistent weight problem with the most rigorous training regimen of her career.
"I just changed my attitude about it," she said. "I just started to enjoy the workouts more than dread them. I thought, it's going to get me in better shape, it's going to make me lose weight and it's going to make me look better, which is also a good incentive. Once you start seeing the results from what you've been doing, it's easier from that point."
Steven Capriati, who plays tennis at the University of Arizona, said his sister sometimes outlasts him when they train together. And she was fresher than Williams in their three-set quarterfinal match.
"When you can run for hours, you feel good about yourself," Denise Capriati said. "She's much more confident now. I just look at her and see confidence and determination. I can see it in her eyes. It's amazing."
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