I must admit - I was pulling for Jennifer.
Now bring on Ms. PUMA - and let the first ball be struck. Here's hoping for a great match if it's like that.
Congrats to Jen. This was a strong win in her column.
Friday, November 8
Updated: November 9, 1:09 PM ET
Capriati still seeking wisdom to win
By Joel Drucker
Special to ESPN.com
"How old would you be if you didn't know how old you were?" -- Satchel Paige
LOS ANGELES -- Technically, Jennifer Capriati is 26. Temperamentally, she defies time.
Jennifer Capriati complains about crowd noise in the mostly empty Staples Center on Thursday night.
Where else but in an individual sport like tennis could someone go from ingénue to outcast to champion? Just a little over a year ago, arriving at Wimbledon with the Australian and French titles in hand, Capriati was the belle of the ball, tenderly announcing, "I feel as if I've been reincarnated." It was the feel-good fable of 2001. During her exile years, the burned-out Capriati had been cited as a showcase example of all that was wrong with tennis. In victory, she had saved tennis for its sins.
Capriati's 2001 had all the merriment of an early Beatles album (think: Hard Day's Night). This year has been a colossal bummer (The White Album). Yes, Capriati defended her Australian Open title, playing gritty tennis to overcome four match points versus Martina Hingis. But it was there the pressure began to show once again.
Flustered in the second set, distraught at the umpire, Capriati blurted to a worldwide audience, "Get the (expletive) supervisor." What was most disturbing was that this twitfit went completely unchecked by the umpire or WTA Tour officials. Like Jimmy Connors, Capriati entered her demagogue phase, rousing the crowd, daring those that had feasted on her carcass to pay for their exploitation. They blinked.
The tone for the year was set. In April, came a nasty discord between Capriati and unblinking Billie Jean King on the eve of a Fed Cup tie that resulted in Capriati being thrown off the team. Later in the spring, Capriati lost two painfully close matches to Serena Williams at the Italian and French Open. This summer she went out in the quarters of Wimbledon and the U.S. Open to a tactically-adroit Amelie Mauresmo, who this fall leapfrogged past Capriati in the rankings to number three. The Australian Open remains her only title of 2002. All throughout the year, there have been tales of Capriati repeatedly whining on the court, and complaining to others off it.
“ It hasn't been the whole up-and-up year [that 2001 was], but, still, you know, I do enjoy myself and I enjoy the challenge. Who knows? Next year it could be a comeback from this year. Maybe that's what I need. Maybe I do it on purpose. ”
— Jennifer Capriati
So here she is at the season-ending WTA championships with one last chance to improve her year. Wednesday night she grubbed her way through an opening-round 7-5, 6-1 victory against Silvia Farina Elia. Like most Capriati matches, it wasn't elegant, punctuated by misfires from the ground and sporadic serving. Yet the concussive quality of her game asserted itself. And as seen over the past two years, Capriati's speed has improved tremendously. Her work ethic appears better than ever.
But the question remains: Having proven herself Slam-worthy, is Capriati a victim of the Peggy Lee Syndrome? Lee, if you don't know, is renowned for the song, "Is That All There Is?" Couple this lament with Satchel Paige's query and Capriati this year has been one weary camper.
"There have been a few more losses and a little more pressure, and it's been disappointing," Capriati said Thursday night about her 2002 campaign. "It hasn't been the whole up-and-up year [that 2001 was], but, still, you know, I do enjoy myself and I enjoy the challenge. Who knows? Next year it could be a comeback from this year. Maybe that's what I need. Maybe I do it on purpose."
Welcome to the contemporary Capriati, slouching toward introspection, albeit lacking the sage-like commentary of an Andre Agassi or the existential angst of a Boris Becker.
Echoing the woes of these two, Capriati said, "It's very tough to figure out how to stay on top once you get on top, and, you know, I think I still have to go through a few trials on how to figure it out and get it right. ... So if I get there again, we'll see how I can handle it. It's not like I'm that far behind. I'm not ranked 100 in the world. I'm still pretty up there."
What's clear through this is Capriati prefers laying low to grabbing headlines. Perhaps the demands of being tennis' queen caused an implosion. After all, she's had her fill of the good, the bad and the ugly in the exposure racket. Capriati is always quick to blame the media for her historic woes and continues to make it difficult to get time with her beyond perfunctory matters. She speaks repeatedly of not wanting to have pressure placed on her, and in numerous tight matches throughout her career has dashed through it all so quickly you'd think she was ready to quit the sport once and for all. Thanks for nothing, dad. Hello, I'm out of here.
And yet in the heat of battle, backed into a corner, her fighting spirit surfaces in some sort of passive-aggressive relationship to her anger. To hell with all of you, I'm going to bury the ball. Moment to moment, Capriati has the game to win more Slams.
Over the long haul, though, does she want to make all the tactical and technical improvements necessary to stage another run for big bounty? Her haste when serving is a complete sign that she's uncomfortable on the court. Then again, maybe if you've been family the meal ticket since your early teens, maybe you'd want to stop, smell the roses away from the court and try to sort out all that those many years that have both given and taken so much.
Pretty rough to tell how many candles to put on Capriati's cake.
Joel Drucker, technical editor of Tennis for Dummies, is covering the WTA Championships for ESPN.com. E-mail him at JDruck@aol.com