Join Date: Jul 2012
If tennis were an authored work of fiction, this would be an example of dramatic foreshadowing...
Capriati: Teen, tennis lives collide
Monday, March 30, 1992
Jennifer Capriati turned 16 Sunday, but life recently for the millionaire tennis phenom has not been sweet.
The bubbliness displayed two years ago, when she became the youngest U.S. player to turn professional, has been replaced by business-like rebelliousness. As a pro, her income from contract endorsements, exhibitions and prize money has exceeded $8 million.
"Am I a rebellious little kid?" she asks rhetorically. "I'm sure I have a little of that in me like every kid. I guess that goes with growing up. Do I give my parents a tough time? Sometimes I'm tough for them; sometimes they're tough for me."
After an Australian Open quarterfinal loss to Gabriela Sabatini, Capriati, No. 6 in the world, said the pressure to win "from everyone ... (was) becoming much more serious."
A week later, she sulked and seethed after a first-round loss in Tokyo. Of Capriati's mood in Tokyo, Martina Navratilova said, "She was not a happy camper."
The National Enquirer recently told of "a bitter battle" with her father, Stefano, who manages her career. Capriati's mother, Denise, called the Enquirer story "disgusting."
"You get criticized for everything you do," Denise says. "We didn't do everything right; we didn't know what to expect. Everything hasn't been perfect."
Stefano Capriati mainly has been criticized for chasing exhibitions. Capriati closed 1991 by playing five consecutive exhibitions (Baltimore; West Palm Beach, Fla.; Knoxville, Tenn.; Lexington, Ky.; and Charleston, S.C.). She had played at least a half-dozen more earlier in the year.
Some top-ranked pros receive six-figure payments for an exhibition. Agents receive up to 20% for negotiating exhibition contracts but generally do not share in the players' earnings at tour events.
Capriati, the No. 4 seed at this week's Family Circle Magazine Cup in Hilton Head, S.C., has played three Kraft Tour events but canceled an exhibition scheduled last month.
"Jennifer said she's not going to play any more exhibitions," Denise says. "She said she tried it and she just doesn't want to do it; she just wants to play (tournaments)."
Capriati's decision to stay in school - she's a 10th-grader at Palmer Academy in Wesley Chapel, Fla. - heightens the stress associated with being a young pro. Despite tutorial assistance, she returned to classes after Tokyo weeks behind her classmates.
Her grades have dropped from straight A's "to A's and B's," says Jo Palmer, the school's supervisor of instruction. "The work has been good, but it's more difficult because some of her subjects now require more analytical thinking. The math is still easy for her; it suits her temperament."
Says Denise: "I told her, let's get this straight. When you try to do tennis full time and go to school full time, you can't excel at both. It's just impossible.
"Your time will come in tennis. You don't have to be the youngest ever to do this or that. That's not important. She's not ready now; it's just not her time."
Says Capriati: "Finishing school is important to me, because what if I get injured or don't want to play tennis anymore? I'd have my high school education and then could at least think about going to college. Besides, I like going to school, to be with my friends and stuff."
Palmer says Capriati thrives on the "socialization part" of being in school: "Sharing the day-in-day-out secrets with friends is very important at her age. She loves our field trips and going to school parties. At our Valentine's Day party, she danced every dance. The wilder the better. I thought she was going to get whiplash."
When she's home, Capriati often goes to movies, shopping malls and restaurants with a group of friends.
"Sometimes we have slumber parties. It's really fun," says Sarah Heer, 17, from Switzerland.
"When we go shopping, a lot of people ask her for autographs," says Bettina Pieri, 16, from Italy. "She doesn't like all the attention."
Says Alex Lehr, 17, Westport, Conn.: "When she's around her friends, she knows she can forget about tennis and all the stress and be herself."
Tensions, which usually exist between parents and teen-agers in every family, become particularly tricky when the teen-ager happens to be a superstar breadwinner.
For example, two years ago, the Capriatis nixed plans to move to Boca Raton, Fla., when Jennifer insisted on staying at the Saddlebrook resort. Last summer, the family moved into a new home next to a lake at Saddlebrook.
Jim Loehr, a sports psychologist who has counseled several top pros, including Gabriela Sabatini and Jim Courier, also is counseling the Capriatis. He declines to discuss the family 's situation specifically but has said father-daughter or mother-son relationships are more apt to overcome problems than same-sex relationships.
"The parent in the different-sex relationship is able to exert comfortable pressure," Loehr says. "Pressure in the father-son or mother- daughter relationships is much more lethal because to the child, it's coming from the person that represents who the child most wants to be. That kind of criticism can be devastating from a self-esteem perspective.
"In the case of (Monica) Seles, Capriati or (Steffi) Graf, you have fathers who are very dominating personalities. It's easier for the daughters to accept their criticism, but the fathers have to know when to back off."
For Stefano Capriati, the backing-off process began last November when he hired Pavel Slozil, Graf's former mentor, to coach his daughter. Stefano's main job, he says, is to be her father.
"I'm there so she can cry on my shoulder. She needs me when she loses," he says. "As a father, I say something maybe she doesn't like, but that's normal. Somebody must tell her how to eat and when to sleep. You must have a little discipline; what do they know about discipline? I feel my soul is at peace. As a father, I do what I'm supposed to do."
The giggly, wide-eyed junior who once enthralled the media with her girl-next-door charm has been replaced by a no-nonsense professional.
"The innocence is gone," she says. "No more acting like a baby. I go in, answer my questions and that's it. Maybe I'm more mature."
But her demeanor and attire at the recent Lipton International Players Championships at Key Biscayne, Fla., suggests the maturation process continues. After her last Lipton match, she wore lipstick, makeup, a ring on each finger, a bracelet on each wrist, a Led Zeppelin shirt and a black, below-the-knee skirt.
"I know some people are saying, `Oh man, she's just going through a stage,' " Capriati says. "Maybe I am, but right now I like it."