TENNIS / JERRY CROWE : Capriati Family Moving to California
A year ago, teen-age tennis sensation Jennifer Capriati, only a year after winning the Olympic gold medal and still a major force on the Women’s Tennis Assn. Tour, bowed out of the U.S. Open in the first round at the hands of unheralded Lela Meshki.
That was to be Capriati’s last match to date, and the time since then has been spent in turmoil for the 18-year-old, who was apprehended in February on a shoplifting charge and in May on a charge of marijuana possession, a misdemeanor.
But Capriati’s life will undergo a major change starting this week, when she and her family--father Stefano, mother Denise and 15-year-old brother Steven--will move from the Tampa, Fla., area of Saddlebrook to Palm Desert.
Denise Capriati said Friday that no coaching changes have been made for Jennifer, nor has there been any schedule set for her return to the tour. She said her daughter has been practicing and working out on a regular basis, but the return to the tour is “up to Jennifer.”
“This is a family move,” Denise Capriati said. “Steven will go to Palm Desert High School and everything else will be quite normal. It’s just a change of environment and we felt our family needed that.”
More than five years have passed since Michael Chang won the French Open in 1989, becoming the youngest male winner of a Grand Slam tournament at 17 years 3 months.
And although he has won 16 tournaments since, Chang has not seriously challenged for a second Grand Slam title, advancing as far as the semifinals only once.
His career has continued to flourish--this year alone he has won five tournaments and earned more than $800,000 in prize money--but Chang said that he will not consider it a complete success if he never again wins one of the sport’s four major events.
“The reason being is that, I feel that at this particular time, I’m a much better player than I was when I was 17 years old,” said Chang, who is seeded sixth at the U.S. Open, which starts Monday in New York. “Although the game has gotten better, I think that I’m still able to go out and compete against the big boys.
“What’s been difficult as far as Grand Slam events, I’m able to get through the early rounds and win a couple of big matches, but I haven’t been able to put together a string of them. And that’s what it takes to win a Grand Slam event.
“You’ve got to be able to beat the best, and you’ve got to be able to beat three of them in a row, in many cases. And that’s what’s been sort of frustrating. I haven’t been able to do that.”
But Chang hasn’t abandoned his quest. Still six months shy of his 23rd birthday, he is the youngest of the five U.S. players ranked among the top 15.
“I give myself a little more time than say, Pete (Sampras) and Jim (Courier), partly because of my size and partly because I’m younger,” Chang said. “I think people forget that I’m the youngest one of that little bunch (that also includes Todd Martin and Andre Agassi).
“It’s frustrating getting to a certain point in an event and losing to Pete in the quarterfinals of the (U.S.) Open last year, then running into him again at Wimbledon (this year). But, then again, to win those events, you’ve got to beat the best players in the world.”
He knows. He did it once.
Music Men: In an effort to “improve the presentation and add more fun and entertainment to men’s professional tennis,” the ATP Tour introduced several innovations this month at a tournament in New Haven, Conn., among them playing music selected by the players during their introductions.
Ivan Lendl, the tour’s all-time money leader, chose “Penny Lane,” by the Beatles. Agassi, in a wink at his former No. 1 fan, picked “The Way We Were,” by Barbra Streisand.
A partial list of songs that probably won’t ever be heard:
--"I’m a Loser,” by the Beatles.
--"Poor Poor Pitiful Me,” Warren Zevon.
--"Born to Lose,” Ray Charles.
Sour Note: Agassi strongly objected to playing music during changeovers.
“To add to the sport, you need to add to it, not take people out of the game,” said the originator of “rock ‘n’ roll” tennis. “Playing music on the changeovers is taking people out of what they’re going there for.
“Rock ‘n’ roll tennis is not playing rock ‘n’ roll music during the match. Rock ‘n’ roll tennis is an attitude. Rock ‘n’ roll tennis is a way of playing and a way of being out there. It’s saying, ‘Come on, get alive, get into this.’ Bringing the fans into it is what I try to do on any level. Tennis as a sport deserves to maintain its entertainment value--as a sport.”
Still more music news: John McEnroe recently took his band to Italy, kicking off a two-week tour with a concert in Santa Margherita that was described by a local newspaper as “the musical equivalent of a double fault.”
Before what was described as an unenthusiastic crowd of 400, McEnroe led his group, McBand, in covers of Rolling Stones and Nirvana tunes and songs about New York life.
McEnroe was not discouraged.
“In sports, you can win or lose,” he told an Italian newspaper. “On stage, it’s different because you can get results somewhere in the middle. I’m not afraid. This time, I know I’m not the best.”
Opposing view: Contrary to conventional wisdom, Anne Person Worcester of the Women’s Tennis Council said that Steffi Graf’s dominance of the WTA Tour and negative publicity surrounding the sport in the year after Monica Seles’ departure was actually good for women’s tennis.
“Steffi set a new standard and other players have strived to reach that level and have really succeeded in stepping up the level of their own tennis,” Worcester told Elliott Almond of The Times. “Losing Monica and Jennifer (Capriati) for a while, some of the negative stories that have been coming out of women’s tennis have almost been a blessing in disguise.
“I’ve seen a tremendous stepping up of the players just in the first six months of this year. Because they said, ‘OK, we’re minus two marquee names, we’ve got negative news stories, the economy is tough, we’re looking for a sponsor. We’ve got to convey how terrific women’s tennis is.’ And they have done that.
“From a little bit of pain comes a lot of gain.”
More than 350 players from 25 countries will play in the 15th U.S. Open Wheelchair Championships Oct. 8-16 at the Racquet Club of Irvine. . . . The 16th Tracy Austin Pro-Celebrity Tennis Tournament is scheduled Oct. 22 at the West End Racquet Club in Torrance.
Times Sports Editor Bill Dwyre contributed to this story.