Jennifer Capriati has something to say. Get out of her room. Also, get out of her life. Do you understand? Is there any electricity in your building? So what if she wears black nail polish, and skulls and crosses in her ears, and rings on all her fingers, and so many chains that she makes these kerchinking noises when she walks? She can't hear any of it—or you, man. All she can hear is the sound of a hundred screaming guitars. It's better than listening to, like, your parents.
At 16, you are what you wear. In her day at Garden City (N.Y.) High, Jennifer's mother, Denise, wore a black jacket, black skirt, black stockings and black boots. And you are what you listen to. Jennifer listens to Metallica or Guns N' Roses. Are they any worse than those 1960s balladeers Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs singing that timeless melody Wooly Bully? Nothing changes but the changes, man, as everybody but a teenager knows.
Here's what happens when a girl turns 16 years of age, as Jennifer will this Sunday. She shoots poisonous looks at her mother, who shakes her fist and says between clenched teeth, "I can't wait till you have kids!" She answers every question with an impudent "So?" She becomes extremely attitudinal. She begins gazing at the ball boys with curiosity. She slouches and smacks her gum. She leads an insurrection at her school, calling for a student council and a curfew extension. She develops an unerring radar for bull and for people who want something from her, which means just about everybody. She decides most of them are old and wrong. Mainly, they're in the way.
Capriati's turmoil was manifest even as she reached the semifinals of the Lipton International Players Championships last week in Key Biscayne, Fla., where she upset top-ranked Monica Seles 6-2, 7-6 before falling 6-2, 6-4 to Arantxa Sánchez Vicario in a desultory match a day later. In the final on Saturday, Sánchez Vicario beat Gabriela Sabatini 6-1, 6-4.
If you really want to send our Miss Capriati into a rage, call her current state of mind a phase. More accurately, it's a rite of passage that virtually every adult has experienced: teenage rebellion. "Her hormones are kicking in," says Denise.
Negotiating the trapped age between childhood and adulthood can render the sweetest of temperaments vile. But Capriati's adolescence is complicated by the fact that she is a star and a multimillionaire who turned professional at 13, won her first pro tournament at 14, reached the semifinals of Wimbledon and the U.S. Open at 15 and last month was the subject of a National Enquirer story proclaiming her a burnout. She is weary of the white-hot glare of the public eye and sick of being psychoanalyzed by everybody who follows tennis. In short, Capriati is tired, confused, sulky and trying to grow up.
"I think everyone goes through it, but I'm dealing with tennis, too," says Capriati. "Plus you've got the added pressure of trying to be accepted by your friends, dealing with math and chemistry teachers, and dealing with rules at home. I mean, it's a lot.
"Why does everyone care? I mean, everyone is so wrapped up in everyone else's lives. I understand up to a point, but enough is enough. People say, 'I know what she feels like.' I'm like, 'Hey, man, what do you know? You're in a totally different thing.' I don't tell you what's going on in your life or how you feel."
Fame and wealth—Capriati earned about $6 million on and off the court in 1991—can be a dangerous combination for anyone, especially a teenager. The costs of living the fast-forward life of a tennis pro are worth questioning, and Capriati is doing just that. Is trying to be No. 1 worth missing out on school and girlhood? Are adulation and money enough compensation for having to play out your adolescence and family dramas in the National Enquirer?
The Lipton was Capriati's first tournament in six weeks. She had taken a much-needed break after a troubled four-week trip to Australia and Japan that left her, as her mother acknowledges, "an unhappy camper." First, Jennifer suffered a disappointing quarterfinal loss to Sabatini at the Australian Open, where she had hoped to win her first Grand Slam title. Afterward, close to tears, she said of tennis, "It's becoming too serious."