When Lindsay Davenport was 13, she would come down to breakfast in the mornings and read the newspaper to find out about her "idol," Jennifer Capriati.
"She was one of my idols for about a year because she did so well and I wasn't even near that level when I was 13 or 14," Davenport said. "Then to see what she went through, her dark years, then to see what she has come back to now, it's amazing. I mean, hopefully it ends on Thursday, but it's great."
On Thursday, Davenport and Capriati--both now 23--will play each other in the semifinals of the Australian Open. They have taken drastically different paths to get to this match, but now that they are prepared to face each other across the net, each can't help but smile.
Davenport is thrilled to be playing some of the best tennis to come off her racket in a while, having defeated No. 9 seed Julie Halard-Decugis, 6-1, 6-2, in the quarterfinals Tuesday night. And Capriati is simply thrilled, happy to find herself in her first Grand Slam semifinal since 1991.
It has been a long journey from there to here, and for years the pressure knocked Capriati off the tennis court completely. But despite a long layoff, an arrest for shoplifting and a stint in drug rehabilitation, Capriati has been able to gather her game back together, slowly winning matches last year, then tournaments. Her confidence also blossomed, and although she stumbled briefly at the U.S. Open in September, leaving a post-match news conference in tears, she has gained an appreciation for her accomplishments that was clearly missing in her adolescence.
"How old was I? Fifteen or something?" she asked after defeating Ai Sugiyama, 6-0, 6-2, in the quarterfinals Tuesday. "It was all just exciting, you know, but it's not the same now. Now I've really had to work to get to this point."
Capriati has had to spend extensive hours in the gym, and even more time outside under the sun, running sprints. She has practiced under the watchful eye of experienced coach Harold Solomon, and she has been hitting with Martina Hingis, who lives a few blocks away. But the biggest project Capriati has had to work on has been her self-doubt, something she said has lessened now that she has "stopped thinking about what the world is going to think of me."
"Right now I believe I can go all the way," she said, even bringing up the possibility of reaching No. 1. "I've come this far, so I'm not going to think otherwise."
Capriati certainly wouldn't mind having a Grand Slam title or two, like Davenport, which is pretty funny to Davenport, who remembers a time when all she wanted to be was Capriati. Relentlessly normal, Davenport instead spent her teen years attending high school and playing junior tennis. Even when she did turn professional, she did not jump completely into the tour right away, and she played without too much involvement from her low-key parents, who never coached her and who are rarely at her matches.
Still, Davenport acknowledges that a lack of early opportunity had as much to do with her more-standard upbringing as good judgment.
"I didn't have the choices [Capriati] had at 13 or 14--I turned pro at 16, a little later, and I didn't reach the top 10 until I was mid-17," Davenport said. "I was a little bit older, and I knew what I wanted then."
In hindsight, Capriati isn't sure whether she came onto the tour too early, and at this point she figures it is something she simply must let go. Her mother, who is with her this week, is also trying to look at the past with a grain of perspective.
"You end up being grateful for the bad, because good comes out of it," Denise Capriati said. "Looking back, I don't know how we could have done things any differently, what would have come out of it. No one ever gave us a book on how to do this. It's a hard thing."