Posted on Thu, Sep. 05, 2002
Capriati can't take the heat
No. 3 seed falls to Mauresmo
By MICHELLE KAUFMAN
NEW YORK - If U.S. Open fans could have peeled away Jennifer Capriati's dour face and peeked into her ponytailed head during Wednesday's quarterfinal loss to Amelie Mauresmo, they might have found a monologue something like this:
'I have to win this match. Have to. Have to. It's been seven bleepin' months since I won a title. Enough with the Williams sisters. Somebody's got to beat them, and everyone says that's me, so I have to win this match. Expletive! This Mauresmo is really getting on my nerves with her stalling tactics. Just get on the court already and play the point.
``Whoa! Where'd that shot come from? Why can't I just stay on the baseline and swat balls like I do against everyone else? Can't believe this woman has beaten me two times in a row. And she's about to beat me again. What's wrong with me? ''
The adoring Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd -- including Capriati ''friend'' Matthew Perry -- gave the 26-year-old resurrected star a warm send-off as she hung her head and forced a wave. But the scoreboard, for the third time in less than two months, was proof the powerful Mauresmo has Capriati's number.
This time, it was 4-6, 7-6 (7-5), 6-3, a better effort by Capriati than the straight-sets losses to the Frenchwoman at the Wimbledon quarters and Montreal final, but still a loss and a missed chance at a title. Again.
Tenth-seeded Mauresmo advances to a semifinal against Venus Williams, who shoved aside two-time Open winner Monica Seles 6-2, 6-3.
Capriati, the No. 3 seed, admitted she is putting too much pressure on herself. The one-time sparkling ingenue with the carefree attitude and go-for broke style conceded she was ''tight'' against Mauresmo and, for lack of a better word, ` `choked''.
Capriati led 6-5 in the second set and was serving for the match when she fell behind 40-15. Capriati's forehand went wide to send the set to a tiebreaker, and Mauresmo won the set to force a third.
''I had a chance to close out the set, the match, and I didn't,'' she said, shrugging. ``I think even from the beginning I wasn't playing with the same kind of loose shots I was playing before. I came out and I was pretty nervous. I felt kind of tight out there throughout the whole match.''
Asked whether she felt she choked, Capriati replied: ``Well, I think getting tight is basically saying you choked, so yeah.''
Capriati, whose off-court troubles sent her tumbling out of the rankings in 1994, was the feel-good story of tennis in 2001. She resurfaced, buffed and bubbly, and won the Australian and French Opens. She won the Australian again in 2002 and folks said if anyone was equipped to match the Williams sisters' power and speed, it was Capriati.
But Capriati hasn't won another tournament in seven months and is growing increasingly frustrated. After losing to Mauresmo 6-4, 6-1 on Aug. 19 in Montreal, Capriati and her entourage -- father/coach Stefano, hitting partners, trainers -- headed back to Tampa to whip her into shape for the Open.
She came into New York a few pounds lighter and determined to challenge the Williams sisters. She breezed through the first four rounds, including a 6-1, 6-3 win over Amy Frazier. But Mauresmo, whose powerful backhand is among the most lethal in the game, would give Capriati more than she could handle.
Mauresmo has an angel tattoo on her left shoulder, but she has been making life hellish for opponents since bursting onto the scene at the 1999 Australian Open as an unseeded 19-year-old. She made the final, and has been torturing people with her aggressive and deceptive shots ever since.
She also realized Capriati could be irritated into making mistakes.
Capriati's body language of late has indicated the honeymoon phase of her comeback is over. Her eyes roll a lot on the court. She contests calls, often using language that requires mommies in the front rows to cover tiny ears. There was the feud with U.S. Federation Cup captain Billie-Jean King. And the sniping at Richard Williams, father of Venus and Serena.
''I knew she's a player who can get upset easily,'' Mauresmo said.
Did Mauresmo purposefully stall to get under her opponent's skin?
''Maybe, but that's the game,'' she said. ``If I need some time, I can have it. I don't know exactly how long I can have, but I'm going to take it.''
Capriati bristled at questions about Mauresmo's take-your-time approach.
She went on to give Mauresmo credit for winning but said her won inability to handle pressure hurt her.
''She has a different style of game, mixes things up, but I definitely think I should have come out and won that match,'' Capriati said. ``Of course I want to [win Slams again], but there's a difference between wanting to and then expecting yourself to and thinking that you should be up there. A lot of other people think I should be up there, so it plays a part. It's something that I haven't really felt in a while and maybe I've been feeling it more lately.
``This is new pressure that I've felt, coming off being No. 1 and having such a great run. Human beings make the same mistakes over and over and over. We never learn. I have to go back to the drawing board and figure it out. Sometimes you want to win so bad you put too much pressure on yourself.''
Judging by Capriati's demeanor and recent results, she wants to win more than ever.