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Bonnard
Nov 8th, 2002, 06:17 PM
http://www.wtafans.com/wtastory2/new_095.html
By Diane Pucin
Los Angeles Times
Posted by WTAFANS TEAM

Jennifer Capriati was the pig-tailed pixie and heir to Chris Evert's tennis goodwill, and we all loved her, didn't we?
Jennifer Capriati was the teenage burnout, the accused shoplifter, the troubled girl in a hotel room with drugs and strangers, and what a tragic story she had become, and we were disgusted at the squandering of talent and goodwill, weren't we?

Jennifer Capriati was the lost soul, traveling aimlessly on the tennis circuit, playing the game because she could do nothing else, and wasn't it sad?

Jennifer Capriati was the comeback sports heroine for the ages, a young woman who had come through all her troubles to win Grand Slam titles, to be No. 1, to smile girlishly while tennis fans swooned and gave back their adoration, eager to see the giggly 13-year-old and not the grown woman who wasn't comfortable talking about her past or her future, and we were all redeemed, too, weren't we?

And now, what?

Jennifer Capriati has come to Staples Center for the Home Depot WTA Championships as the third-seeded player and owner of the 2002 Australian Open title. She also comes as the winner of only one match since her upset loss to Amelie Mauresmo in the U.S. Open quarterfinals. She has lost twice to exandra Stevenson and been bageled a set in a 6-0, 6-3 loss to Conchita Martinez.

She was nobody's sweetheart when, a day after her beating by Mauresmo, New York tabloids had photos of Capriati at a nightclub after she had taken off her blouse and was dancing in her bra while dangling a cigarette from her fingers.

Already during the Open, Capriati had been hammered when she was asked for her opinions on Title IX and responded that she had no idea what Title IX was.

Capriati, now 26 and a 12-year veteran of the tour, had her father and coach, Stefano, hovering in the press room at Staples during media day this week, keeping track of what his daughter said and how long she would be forced to endure listening to tough questions about a WTA fashion show and whether she was tired or not.

And now, who?

Is Capriati the pig-tailed sweetheart, the inspirational architect of a heartwarming comeback? Or is she the badly spoken, unhappy, burned-out party girl?

Capriati is neither, of course. Or maybe both.

Capriati didn't ask to navigate teenager-hood on a worldwide stage, where her every blemish and weight gain was noted and criticized, where every mumbled answer was used as evidence that pushing young girls into sports too soon was awful, where every day brought another match, another city.

After all she had gone through, Capriati still seemed surprised that her U.S. Open post-loss partying was photographed and published.

"I mean, I was just out having some fun," she said. "But I didn't mind the photo. My abs looked pretty flat. And I was only holding the cigarette for a friend."

Capriati excuses her post-Open results, losses so bad that it seemed she must be going through the motions, as a natural letdown after an emotional couple of years.

In 2001, Capriati was almost everybody's comeback athlete of the year. She won consecutive Grand Slam tournaments at the Australian and French Open and earned the No. 1 ranking that had been predicted when Capriati was a 14-year-old semifinalist at the French Open in 1990.

That success, her teary reaction to winning the titles, had brought to Capriati, for the months from January through May, unencumbered joy. But when she arrived at Wimbledon and heard nothing but talk of how she was halfway to sweeping the four Grand Slam events and creating special history, the joy disappeared. There were fewer smiles and more tossed rackets and mumbled answers and almost palpable relief when she lost in the semifinals.

She is an athlete who seems to revel in the competition until some notice is taken. She wants to win — but please, don't watch.

Maybe it was inevitable that Capriati's life as a tennis sensation was bound to fall apart.

And maybe it is not surprising now that Capriati still needs her father always nearby, always has a WTA minder making sure no one wants to ask Jennifer a tough question, and always seems sure that somebody, everybody, is out to hurt her.

During this year, when she has not beaten Serena or Venus Williams, has lost three times to Mauresmo, has been involved in an ugly dispute with Fed Cup captain Billie Jean King, has thrown rackets and been caught yelling obscenities at umpires, been photographed in a bra, it seems as if Capriati is finding the spotlight too hot again.

Capriati beat Silvia Farina Elia, 7-5, 6-1, in the first round Thursday night. Her hair is rock-star red and she has the bangs and ponytail of a little girl. Who does Capriati want to be? The rebel, the waif, the little girl we all loved, the adult with talent and faults and expectations? Or all of those things? Or none of them? Who does she want us to see? Who does she want to be?

timmbo
Nov 8th, 2002, 06:37 PM
Capriati still seeking wisdom to win

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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 had 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 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 Opens. 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, bitching 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 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 that 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.


I thought this article was pretty interesting as well