Work in Sports
All grown up
Capriati no longer tennis' troubled teen
Posted: Tuesday January 25, 2000 12:14 PM
By Jon Wertheim, Sports Illustrated
Though she only refers to her fall from grace in abstract, euphemistic ways -- "my dark period" is a favorite -- questions about her past are becoming increasingly less relevant. A year ago March, her ongoing "comeback" stuck in neutral, Capriati received a visit from Harold Solomon, a former top player who himself had tried to make it back on tour after a long layoff. Solomon sat in Capriati's living room and gave her a no-nonsense sales pitch. He would be her coach, but she would have to give a wholehearted commitment. Capriati agreed. "Right off the bat, we hit it off," she says. But, besides, as she puts it: "At that point I had nothing to lose."
At that point, Capriati, ranked on the fringes of the top 100, had a goal of getting to the top 50. Regardless of how she fares against Lindsay Davenport, she is almost assured of a top-10 ranking by next week.
The most obvious change in Capriati is physical. Even at the height of her precocious blaze, she was the never the soul of fitness. Today, her musculature rivals any player this side of Serena Williams. Less obvious are changes in Capriati's constitution. While her press conferences once devolved into parlor games among media members -- how many times will she say "y'know" today? -- she has metamorphosed into an adult who speaks confidently and thoughtfully.
That said, Capriati is still reluctant to visit her past and even more reluctant to embrace the role of heroine. Capriati's doubles partner this week is Jelena Dokic, a 16-year-old Australian who had a Mini-Me meltdown of her own this week. Might capriati seek to counsel Dokic? "No, I'm not in a position to give advice," she says.
Before Capriati's bandwagon overflows, it's worth playing ogre and noting that she hasn't exactly beaten a murderer's row of opponents -- Dominique Van Roost, Patty Schnyder and Sugiyama -- to get to the final four. Still, win or lose against Davenport, it looks like Jennifer Capriati's tortuous saga might just end happily ever after.
Elena Likhovtseva made it into the Chase Championships last year at the 11th hour when Serena Williams pulled out with a back injury. Ingrate. Likhovtseva pulled off what may be the upset of the tournament the other night, beating a visibly out-of-shape Serena 6-3, 6-3. ... Looking for an Olympic team sleeper? How about Morocco, which sent three men -- Hicham Arazi, Younes El-Aynaoui and Karim Alami, to the round of 16. ... Nicolas Kiefer expressed gratitude that Andre Agassi patted him on the butt and wished him well in his last match. Asked if any elder statesmen had ever supported him when he was a young up-and-comer, Agassi responded: "I came up with Connors, McEnroe and Lendl. Which one of them would give you the time of day?"
Sports Illustrated staff writer Jon Wertheim will file daily from the Australian Open. Don't forget to submit a question to his Tennis Mailbag.