Capriati wins match, Martina crowd Legend gives teen stern test at Arena

November 27, 1991|By Bill Glauber

For one week, Martina Navratilova talked about AIDS, Magic Johnson, the environment, the political climate of the country and the changing world of women's tennis.

And then she appeared on Phil Donahue's show.

Jennifer Capriati spent the week reacclimating herself to the women's tour, nursing a leg injury and shopping in New York.

But last night at the Baltimore Arena, the legend and the kid met in the First National Bank Tennis Festival presented by The Baltimore Sun. It was an exhibition that spanned generations, a 35-year-old, nine-time Wimbledon champion against a 15-year-old schoolgirl still yearning to win an initial Grand Slam crown.

Capriati won the match, 7-6 (9-7), 6-4, but Navratilova won the crowd of 11,035 by showing again that age is just a number.

"It doesn't matter if you're 35 or 15, the ball comes at you the same way," Navratilova said.

And the ball came off Capriati's racket at terrific speeds. This was wonderful tennis for one set, Capriati banging returns all across the court, and Navratilova slicing backhands and charging the net, fighting off six first-set points but finally giving way in the tie-breaker by dumping a forehand into the net.

"It's always fun to play in front of a big crowd," Navratilova said. "And it's nice to give something back to a friend for a good cause."

Navratilova came to Baltimore at the urging of Pam Shriver, her friend and longtime doubles partner, who served as the charity event host. Only two days after losing in four sets to No. 1 Monica Seles in the Virginia Slims Championships final, Navratilova displayed her talents against another teen-age rival. Her vintage serve-and-volley game stands out as a marvelous relic in a sport filled with teen-agers carrying around oversized rackets and relying on baseline power.

"You're nervous and you want to put on a good show," Navratilova said before the match. "Here, the bottom line isn't winning. The bottom line is entertaining."

For the past week, Navratilova has been at the center of a controversy revolving around the issue of AIDS and Johnson's disclosure that he has the virus that causes the disease. Navratilova pointedly referred to a double standard on the issue that exists between men and women, heterosexuals and homosexuals. Her comments, first in the New York Post, then at a news conference, and finally on the Donahue show, triggered a national debate that was joined by other women athletes.

"I'm asked questions, I answer them," she said. "I don't develop issues. Any time you say something new and controversial, things happen. I didn't bring it up. But if you ask, I'll tell you what I think."

Navratilova gave herself high marks for this past season. After recovering from knee surgery, she came back on the tour, solidified her ranking as the world's No. 4 player and reached finals at the U.S. Open and the Virginia Slims. But she failed in her bid to win Wimbledon, losing to Capriati in two sets in the quarterfinals.

"I played better tennis this year than last, but in 1990, I won Wimbledon," she said. "This year, I didn't. So, maybe last year was better."

For Capriati, the season provided further evidence of her rise in the women's game. She reached No. 6 in the computer, and became the youngest women's semifinalist at Wimbledon. Her victory there clearly rattled Navratilova, who gave away match -- point with a double fault.

After taking two months off to attend school at home in Wesley Chapel, Fla., Capriati rejoined the circuit two weeks ago, reaching the final in Philadelphia but losing in the second round of the Virginia Slims to Gabriela Sabatini. Capriati had been slowed by a pulled leg muscle, but against Navratilova, she moved quickly and hit forcefully.

"Next year, I'd like to win a Grand Slam," Capriati said.

That's tough talk from a teen-ager who still enjoys morning practice and an afternoon walk. Yesterday, she hit Harborplace and went shopping.

"Nothing special," she said. "I just got some things."

Capriati added that she was delighted to play for charity. Proceeds from the event benefited the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, Children's Hospital, and the Greater Baltimore Tennis Patrons.

Capriati waited patiently as Shriver and Jim Palmer defeated Elise Burgin and former Baltimore Blast goalkeeper Scott Manning, 4-2, in a celebrity doubles match. After her singles victory, Capriati performed an encore in doubles, teaming with Shriver to defeat Navratilova and Burgin, 6-3.

"It's great to help out," Capriati said. "But it's kind of weird. I'm a kid, helping kids. I mean, who thought I'd be doing that and that people would want to see me play?"

That's tennis in the 1990s.

Kids.

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