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Injury Pulls Capriati Out of Evert Cup

TIMES STAFF WRITER

What do you call a tennis tournament whose top player, Steffi Graf, pulls out one day and second-best player, Jennifer Capriati, pulls out the next?

“Cursed, definitely cursed,” said Barbara Perry, promoter of the Matrix Essentials/Evert Cup, which begins today at Hyatt Grand Champions without the top two reasons why most people would buy tickets to watch.

Capriati withdrew from the $375,000 tournament Sunday, blaming a stomach muscle she pulled in practice in Florida. It was not the first time someone used that explanation. Graf withdrew Friday, also because of a pulled stomach muscle she aggravated in practice.

The absence of Graf and Capriati mean No. 7-ranked Mary Joe Fernandez will be the top-seeded player in 56-draw tournament, where it has been proven that many are called, but few are chosen.

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Perry and Chris Evert spent Sunday trying to find somebody to replace Capriati, but at least they had plenty of practice since they spent most of Saturday trying to find somebody to replace Graf.

Monica Seles turned down $75,000 merely to show up and play the tournament.

Seles, who made $2.6 million in prize winnings last year, must not need the money, even though she could have stuffed the free cash in her racket bag and then added it to whatever the top-ranked player would have earned from playing the event.

The Women’s Tennis Assn. player commitment rule guarantees one player ranked in the top three to a Tier II tournament, such as the Evert Cup, so when Graf pulled out, Perry started scrambling to find a replacement.

The inducement for an 11th-hour replacement is $75,000, which comes out of a $375,000 WTA incentive fund as part of the Virginia Slims bonus pool. Perry tried Gabriela Sabatini, but Sabatini is recovering from flu, so Perry turned to Seles.

Seles, who turns her back on cash as rarely as she hits a volley, told Perry Saturday that she was coming.

“She said yes, but that she wanted to wait until she played her final Sunday against Martina to be sure,” Perry said.

But Seles lost to Navratilova Sunday in three sets in the final of the Paris Open.

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“She said no,” Perry said.

So Seles, who has had a busy schedule, was out.

Perry briefly considered Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, but she isn’t ranked in the top three, so she didn’t satisfy the player commitment rule.

Evert personally telephoned Navratilova in Paris to ask her to play in Graf’s place, but Navratilova said she just couldn’t do it after a killer schedule of consecutive tournaments in Tokyo, Chicago and Paris.

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After Capriati’s exit, Perry said Evert placed another call to Navratilova, who had already checked out of her Paris hotel. When Evert phoned Seles, the hotel operator said Seles was not taking any calls.

“After what happened today, I’m not taking any calls either,” Perry said.

Actually, it’s difficult to blame Perry for being a little skittish. Last year, Navratilova withdrew before the tournament. In 1991, the event was nearly washed out by rain. Two years ago, Navratilova’s final against Helena Sukova was played in a sandstorm and in 1989, top-seeded Evert lost in the first round.

“It’s like something out of Saturday Night Live,” Perry said.

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Tennis Notes

To save a potentially disastrous weekend, tournament promoter IMG is trying to persuade Martina Navratilova to play Chris Evert in an exhibition Sunday. . . . Rennae Stubbs, the 21-year-old Australian who plays Tracy Austin Tuesday in Austin’s comeback after four years away from the tour, said she is going to treat Austin like just another player. “I’ve never seen her alive, only on TV,” Stubbs said. “I’m sure the crowd will be for her, but maybe it’s a plus for me and a minus for her because of their expectations of her being a great player again. They still expect her to win matches. They don’t expect anything from me. I think it’s going to be really difficult for her. A match is completely different than practice.” Austin, 30, who won the U.S. Open in 1979 and 1981.


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