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Seles-Capriati Is the Rivalry of the Future

TIMES STAFF WRITER

No, Paris isn’t burning yet, but the water temperature of the Seine is probably rising now that Monica Seles has hit town.

Only 16, Seles is all the rage, no matter what kind of attention is stirred up by 14-year-old Jennifer Capriati in her rookie year on the tour.

So who’s better? Monica or Jennifer? There’s no question, said Chris Evert.

“Monica is more advanced and more experienced,” Evert said. “That doesn’t mean that Jennifer can’t catch up. After all, she has just started playing. But this should be an interesting rivalry for a number of years.”

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If Evert’s words come to pass, a Capriati-Seles rivalry would look similar to the one Evert had with Martina Navratilova, which brought interest, money and fans to women’s tennis.

Capriati, whose idol is Evert, was even coached by Chris’ dad, Jimmy, in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. Seles is from Yugoslavia, Navratilova from Czechoslovakia. Like Evert and Navratilova, there is a two-year gap in Seles’ and Capriati’s ages.

Seles is the hottest player in tennis.

A week ago, Seles upset No. 1-ranked Steffi Graf in 63 minutes and straight sets to win the German Open and end Graf’s 66-match winning streak.

Graf was a seven-time defending German Open champion. Soon after the match with Seles, passers-by on West Berlin’s Kurfurstendam saw an unfamiliar message on the huge electronic screen that flashes the latest news headlines:

“The Countess has been dethroned.”

That may be premature, but Seles’ fifth consecutive tournament victory put her into the No. 3 spot in the rankings and extended her own match-winning streak to 24.

“I am much more experienced now, and I wasn’t afraid of her as much as before,” Seles said of Graf.

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Before Seles beat her, Graf’s last loss was a year ago at Roland Garros when Arantxa Sanchez Vicario upset her in the French Open final.

That was long ago, but not long enough for Graf to have forgotten: “You never forget losing.”

There can be no question that Seles and Capriati represent a new wave of youngsters coming into prominence. The only question is when they will take over. It may happen here.

In any event, Seles said she is glad to share the spotlight with Capriati.

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“Whatever Jennifer does, I’m really glad because it will probably take the pressure off me to have somebody else who is young and a good player around.”

Sixteen years old?

Fourteen years old?

Graf, who will be 21 on June 14, looks positively ancient.

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