Anyone, not in the know, watching the 2001 United States Open tennis championships in Flushing, Queens, could easily come away with the wrong impression. That is why it is incumbent on those charged with the responsibility of painting a complete picture, that they do exactly that. If they fail, then they should be fired. There is absolutely no excuse.
Jennifer Capriati, the nation's latest poster girl as far as a remarkable feel-good story is concerned, has proved to be interesting in more ways than one.
No one likes to knock a generally accepted inspirational story but there is something quite troubling with this much celebrated one.
The notion prevalent since the beginning of the year is that the man behind the miraculous comeback of Jennifer Capriati is her father, Stefano Capriati. Nothing can be further from the truth. The disturbing thing about this whole state of affairs is the fact that by their actions, the Capriatis have fostered this erroneous impression and this does not speak well of their character.
I think we can end the mystery right here and now by saying that had it not been for former world top 10 player Harold Solomon, Jennifer Capriati would have remained just another tragic figure in the sport.
She turned pro in 1989 at age 13, a decision which makes you wonder about the motivation of her parents, and almost immediately was bringing in $6 million in endorsements. the next year, at age 14, she was in the semi-finals of the Australian Open and challenging for her first Grand Slam singles title. In 1991, as a 15-year-old, she reached the semis of both Wimbledon and the U.S. Open and was generally anointed as the next great women's player. In 1992 she became the youngest player to surpass $1 million in prize money and seemed ready to realize her full potential when she beat Steffi Graf of Germany in a spectacular three-set singles final to take the gold medal for the United States at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, Spain. But the dark clouds were gathering.
Beginning to experience enormous pressure to maintain her standing at the top, the 17-year-old stopped training, started drinking and doing drugs. In December of 1993 she was caught shoplifting a $15 ring from a Tampa, Florida, mall. The following year she was arrested, along with two drifters, for possession of marijuana. Her black-and-white prison mug shot, complete with nose ring, remains a chilling reminder to followers of the game. Two bouts of drug rehab followed.
After two years of oblivion and staring into the pit she decided she didn't want to go there and tried a comeback. It took another two to three years before Capriati made the decision which landed her back on her feet, saved her career, lay the foundation and proved pivotal to her return to the top 10 in women's tennis.
From 1994-1998 Jennifer Capriati won only one match in Grand Slam singles. Faced with a career crisis, she approached Harold Solomon and asked him to be her coach.
Solomon, ranked 7th in the world in 1980 behind great names like Bjorn Borg John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, Guillermo Vilas and Ivan Lendl, pondered the proposition and asked: "What do you want to accomplish?" Her reply: "If I could ever, ever get anywhere near the top 20, I'd be the happiest girl of all time."
Impressed with her sincerity, Solomon accepted.
Working with trainer Karen Burnett he whipped her into shape, helping her drop 30 pounds and in the process improving her mobility along the baseline, an area she once dominated.
Title wins in Strasbourg, France, and Quebec City, Canada, were highlight of 1999. But the year 2000 brought trouble.
After reaching the semi-finals of the women's singles at the Australian Open (her best showing in a Grand Slam event in nine years), where she lost to Lindsay Davenport, she started a relationship with pony-tailed Belgian player, Xavier Malisse. The affair proved disruptive to her career comeback and when Solomon found that he could not get her to train and practice as before he left.
Floundering once again, her father managed to let her see the errors of her ways and Malisse was sent packing. She then resorted to the things Solomon had stressed and before the end of last year, her game was back on track. Her accomplishments since then are well known.
Taking into consideration Solomon's effect on her career, it came as a shock when Capriati after winning the Australian Open earlier this year and followed this up with the French Open singles, neglected to acknowledge the role Solomon played in resurrecting her career. Her victory speech after winning the French Open at Roland Garros was all about her father, her brother and her mother. There was no mention of Solomon. Did they part on bad terms. Certainly not, if her own words are to be believed.
After her great showing at last year's Australian Open she was effusive in her praise: "He said that he really believed I could go all the way, even number one, maybe. I have a lot of respect for him and I think he knows a lot about the game and knows what he's talking about. That just right there lifted my confidence."
At the Italian Open in Rome last year, about a month after Solomon had departed, the question of his absence came up. She had just been dismissed in straight sets in the first round by a little-known Frenchwoman and when asked about the recent split she offered that they had parted "on good terms."
Today, if you're at the Open in Queens or watching it on TV, you're going to hear a lot of clueless or less than candid "talking heads" heaping praise on Steffano Capriati for the great job he has done in resuscitating the career of his prized pupil. You'll see footage of him walking proudly with his chest and stomach stuck in the air while his hands proudly clutch a handful of expensive rackets, obviously meant for his daughter. You'll see them cut to the usual scenes of mother Denise, brother Steven and her father lending support from the stands. But you'll not see them cut to a shot of Harold Solomon, if he is there in the stands. Kid brother Steven Capriati has even come in for his share of the buffet. He has suddenly emerged as a player and practice partner for his sister, even managing to get a dose of celebrity by partnering Jennifer in the mixed doubles at the U.S. Open. A first round exit was most appropriate.
The only TV commentator to display any honesty was the former two-time U.S. Open women's singles champion, Tracy Austin. She felt compelled to point out to her clueless or dishonest partner on one of the telecasts that Solomon should be given a lot of credit for Capriati's success, pointing out that he was the one who lay the foundation and put her on track. Her partner's silence spoke volumes.
I've been looking at Capriati at this year's Open and I see some arrogance and a cantankerous personality. She seems to be absorbed in all the hype and these are not good signs. I also see a player who is not as good as advertised, but time will tell. There is not much of a future for people who do not respect the past.