THE NEXT CHRIS? : Jennifer Capriati Waiting in Wings Until She's 14 and Gets Chance to Emulate Idol

The Baltimore Sun

One performer leaves the stage, and another moves into the wings. This show never ends. It just continues. Chris Evert walks off into the tennis sunset after losing to Zina Garrison at the U.S. Open, and Jennifer Capriati hangs around the practice court, rehearsing for the starring role.

Capriati is a 13-year-old kid still trying to grow into her size 8 1/2 men's tennis sneakers. But she is Evert's living legacy, molded in her image, another two-fisted backhander with an oversized racket and oversized dreams.

"Chris is my idol," Capriati said, fondling a 14-karat gold bracelet Evert gave her at Christmas. On the front of the bracelet is the word "Jennifer." Inscribed on the back are the words, "Love Chris."

Already, Capriati is wandering into the spotlight, holding news conferences, sitting with a group of American reporters while her father, Stefano, circles and listens.

Capriati is a curiosity at the U.S. Open. Too young for the main draw, she is entered in the junior girls' tournament, the No. 3 seed who happens to be the French Open junior champion and the youngest member of the U.S. Wightman Cup Team. Wednesday, Capriati crushed 16-year-old Julie Shiflet of Virginia Beach, Va., 6-0, 6-0.

"I don't even look at her age," Shiflet said. "I haven't been beaten like that in a long time. She could probably be a top 10 player on the women's tour now."

Pam Shriver, No. 9 in the world, does not want to talk rankings and pile up more expectations but . . . .

"She's the real McCoy," Shriver said. "She's going to be the next dominant American player."

Evert's father, Jimmy, was Jennifer's first coach.

"I'd like to see her become the next Chrissie," he said. "She's an awfully good player."

Jennifer can turn professional in March after celebrating her 14th birthday.

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