Capriati sees wins in `just living'

Survivor extends Open stay to 3rd round

September 03, 1999|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK -- When Jennifer Capriati was 14, she made the semifinals of the French Open and began a three-year run of promise that was captivating.

But then came December 1993 and a charge that she had shoplifted a $15 ring. Six months after that, in mid-1994, she was arrested and charged with misdemeanor possession of marijuana and attended a court-ordered rehab program.

At the time, she told the New York Times: "I've considered suicide." And when she tried a comeback in November of that year in Philadelphia, she lost in the first round.

Afterward, as she sat facing the media, the then shattered 18-year-old could not put a complete sentence together and again she dropped out of the spotlight.

To remember that scene in Philadelphia and to now see Capriati here, three years into her current comeback, is a revelation.

It has been a long time since anyone has seen the Capriati who played in the sunshine on Louis Armstrong Stadium yesterday, winning in the second round of the U.S. Open.

"No one but me knows how hard it has been, or how much work it's been to get here," she said, after a 5-7, 6-1, 6-4 victory over No. 93 Seda Noorlander of the Netherlands.

Only two days before, she had beaten her best friend Iva Majoli, the 1997 French Open champion, for her first Open victory in seven years.

Yesterday, when Noorlander's forehand return went long on match point, Capriati reacted with joy. Her fists shot up. She waved to her coach, Harold Solomon, and to the crowd and as she turned toward her courtside chair to begin gathering up her gear, she puffed out her cheeks and whispered, "Whew!"

"This is the best results I've had in a long time, the best tennis results," she said, explaining those reactions. "And, you know, I'm not expecting myself to win. Just winning is not going to be a thing that makes me happy. I'm just enjoying myself, enjoying my life. Just living. And that's really it."

Capriati is 23, a good six years past her last quarterfinal appearance at Wimbledon. And just six months into a phase of her career in which she again has a coach.

Solomon, a Silver Spring native, got a phone call from Capriati's dad last year, asking if he'd work with her. Solomon said, he would, but only when she made the call and showed she was ready to be coached.

She called last March.

"It took me awhile to determine that I wanted someone," Capriati said. "For awhile there, I thought, you know, I could be my own coach. I didn't need anything, anybody. But, it really wasn't working. so I got Harold. I was just sick of losing, or just not knowing why I was losing."

Solomon says that from his first two-hour phone conversation with her last March that he knew she had already made the commitment to work.

She was then -- and continues to be -- eager in her training on and off the court, he said, doing what it takes physically to be mentally strong during a match.

"She's much the same player she was when she was a little girl, sometimes better," he said. "What I'm helping her with is the regaining of that innocent confidence, that allowed her to walk without fear. It's coming back. You can see that. She's gone from 150 in the world to No. 40."

There are no goals here. In fact, Solomon wanted to have her ready to make an impact at the Australian Open next January. But now, he said, it would be "awesome" if Capriati made it to the round of 16, where she would be projected to meet old friend Monica Seles.

Seles, the No. 4 seed, won easily yesterday, sweeping past Silvia Farina, 6-2, 6-3. The victory brings the two women within one win of each other.

"I can remember our [semifinal] match here in 1991," Seles said. "It was such a tight match, to finish in a tie-breaker and go to the finals was really big for me because I never kind of thought I would do well at the U.S. Open, and to win that match, after I had lost to Jennifer the week before, was terrific.

"I just think it's terrific that she's trying to put her life back together. She's still so young. I think it's terrific she realizes she needs to do things now and not wait too much longer."

Featured matches Men's singles today

Gustavo Kuerten (5) vs. Paul Haarhuis

Todd Martin (7) Richey Reneberg

Greg Rusedski (9) vs. David Prinosil

Women's singles today

Martina Hingis (1) vs. Sandra Kloesel

Barbara Schett (12) vs. Virginia Ruano Pascual

Dominique Van Roost (13) vs. Mary Joe Fernandez

Amelie Mauresmo (15) vs. Tara Snyder

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