For Jennifer Fans
March 12, 2002
On This Day: The Times, March 12, 1990
From Barry Wood, Boca Raton, Florida
YOUNG CAPRIATIS MEMORABLE WEEK ENDS IN DEFEAT
The future looked bright for Jennifer Capriati when, at the age of 13, she reached her first professional final. Yet the overwhelming pressure of expectations took its toll and by 1994 she had fallen out of the tennis rankings and her life was one of drugs, shoplifting and junk food. In the past year, however, Capriati has won three Grand Slam titles, crowning an astonishing sporting comeback
GABRIELA SABATINI yesterday prevented Jennifer Capriati from becoming the youngest player to win an important tournament since Andrea Jaeger claimed the title in Tampa in 1980 at the age of 15 years and four months.
Sabatini, 19, the world’s third-ranked player and a veteran in the context of this confrontation, eventually tamed her youthful opponent, 6-4, 7-5, in the Virginia Slims of Florida.
The youngster had already made tennis history before the finals began. No one before her has reached a major circuit final in their first event. Chris Evert played five tournaments before reaching her first final. Tracey Austin made it at her 11th attempt, Andrea Jaeger took 13, Gabriela Sabatini 15, Steffi Graf 21 and Martina Navratilova 26.
Not 14 until the 29th of this month, Capriati exceeded almost everyone’s expectations, but was unable to overcome the surprisingly resolute Argentinean. She appeared at times to be overeager and made errors where earlier in the week she had managed to find winners.
Sabatini used her exaggerated topspin to good effect. The ball bounced high, often above the shoulders of 5ft 6in Capriati, but that did not provide the greatest problem. That came from Capriati's inability to return the ball in the rallies with the same amount of pace she had enjoyed against previous opponents.
She managed to rally well with Sabatini from the baseline, but rarely looked like threatening from that position. Only when she came in to the net, which she did with increasing frequency, was there a realistic chance of volleying a winner. However, Sabatini was more often than not her equal in that area, too.
Although she has challenged and beaten several highly ranked players in her first week as a professional, Capriati will not receive a computer ranking until she has also competed at two further events, including the Lipton International which begins on Friday.
Meanwhile, she can count her earnings of $28,000 and consider the impact she has had. Perhaps her greatest achievement was in defeating Helena Sukova with such ease in the quarter-finals, although the determination she showed in overcoming Laura Gildemeister in two tie-breaks to reach the final would also have given the players who watched fascinated from the sidelines much food for thought.
They know, although they may be reluctant to admit it openly, that they would find the tenacious teenager almost impossible to overcome. But while the hurricane of publicity surrounds her, Capriati herself remains unaffected by it all. She is still a 13-year-old child, although a remarkably mature one.
Before yesterday, Capriati had received a good luck telephone call from Chris Evert, her model and inspiration for those punishingly accurate and consistent ground strokes which struck fear into earlier opponents.
Interviewed on the Today television show before the tournament began, she admitted that if the chance arose she would love to play mixed doubles with Jimmy Connors. She described him in a way that also describes herself.
“He’d be a lot of fun to play with and he’s really enthusiastic. I love the way he gets into it. He’s always been my idol and I've always loved him. But I also want to play with Stefan Edberg because he’s cute,” she added with a giggle.
She is, as Rex Bellamy would say, a major minor.