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Jennifer Capriati is AP Female Athlete of the Year

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When Jennifer Capriati was just out of eighth grade, she reached the semifinals of her first Grand Slam tournament _ the 1990 French Open. Another 11 years would pass before she reached a major final.

She didn't waste any time completing her remarkable resurgence in 2001, winning the Australian and French Opens and taking a brief turn at No. 1.

Capriati's impressive rebound from career crisis to the top of tennis earned her The Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year award on Thursday.

``I'm no longer going to doubt myself in anything,'' Capriati said after winning her first major title this year. ``If I can come home with a Grand Slam, now I know anything is possible.''

She received 37 first-place votes and 157 points from sports writers and broadcasters to top Venus Williams, also the runner-up in 2000. Williams had 26 first-place votes and 120 points, and Annika Sorenstam was third with 94 points. Points were awarded on a 3-2-1 basis.

Capriati won three titles and reached four other finals, posting a 56-14 match record, including 24-2 in Grand Slam tourneys.

``I am proud to be able to come back from everything that's happened in my life, and just to enjoy tennis and play this well,'' Capriati said in October, when she moved up to No. 1 in the WTA rankings. ``I think it shows everybody that it's never too late to realize your talent, or your dream.''

Capriati was successful immediately when she turned pro at age 13, but drug and other problems derailed her progress. She dropped off the tour after the 1993 U.S. Open and didn't play a competitive match for 2 1/2 years. There was little reason to believe her game would be anything special when she came back in April 1996. Two years later, her ranking dipped to No. 267.

Seeded 12th at the Australian Open in January, though, Capriati defeated past champions Monica Seles, Lindsay Davenport and Martina Hingis en route to the title and her first Top 10 ranking in seven years.

``I don't know what it is, but in this tournament, from the beginning, it's like all of a sudden this wave of confidence came over me,'' Capriati said before beating Hingis in straight sets in the final. ``I just really felt good about my game and about everything.''

In the best shape of her career, Capriati cruised through two grueling weeks on clay at the French Open to become the first American women's champion there since Chris Evert in 1986. Capriati eliminated Serena Williams and Hingis to reach the final, where she edged Belgium's Kim Clijsters 1-6, 6-4, 12-10, the longest last set in a French Open women's title match.

Capriati also was strong at the other Grand Slam tournaments, reaching the semis at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.

That was enough to push her to No. 1 in the WTA rankings in October; she finished the year at No. 2, behind Davenport.

``I look forward to playing all the top players because it's just a real test,'' the 25-year-old Capriati said. ``That's what we live for, the players, just to get in that moment and really have a challenge and just see if we can live up to it.
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