Tennis Prose



When The Tennis Media Reduced Capriati To Tears

One of the low points of tennis media versus players friction happened at the 1999 US Open after Jennifer Capriati lost to Monica Seles. Capriati did her press conference and by the end of the dreadful, torture experience, she was reduced to tears…

I was at the tournament and press conference and it was very sad and upsetting – and unforgettable – to see Capriati suffer through this. It was one of the glaring examples of how cruel and callous tennis reporters can be, sometimes without even the intention …

WTA: Before we start, Jennifer would like to read a statement.

JENNIFER CAPRIATI: It’s a little long. Bear with me. “I write this letter to you using my own words and my own thoughts. I’ve been wanting to share this with you for a long time. I wasn’t ready until this moment. By giving this to you all, I wish to close the envelope of my past. “I know there is much mystery, much question to what happened, and I must also say, many lies. Yes, I made mistakes by rebelling, by acting out in confused ways. But it was all due to the fact I was very young and I was experiencing my adolescence. Most of you know how hard that can be. When you do it in front of the world, it is even harder. “I took a different path, one you might not expect. But along the path, I learned a lot about my life — about life. It has molded me into what I am now. If I knew there would be so much pain in learning life’s lessons, I would have been hesitant to take the path that I took. It’s the only thing I do regret. “Let me say that the path I did take for a brief period of my life was not of reckless drug use, hurting others, but it was a path of quiet rebellion, of a little experimentation of a darker side of my confusion in a confusing world, lost in the midst of finding my identity. “I made mistakes, and, yes, I am to blame, and no one else. I am sorry to my loved ones that I humiliated and embarrassed. And I’m sorry to my fans who I feel I let down. I’m sorry to myself for causing such pain. “But I’ve put a great deal behind me, moving forward in the right direction, the direction I feel is right. “I feel like I’ve started a new chapter in my life, and I need to leave the past behind. So this will be the final time that I speak about the past. I just ask that after today, you please respect my wishes. “I want to thank many of you for the support you’ve given me in the past and here at this great US Open. I can’t thank the fans enough. They have touched my heart with their support from all over the world. “I feel each day for me now is getting better and better. I wrote this statement before The Open began and waited until my run was over to say all this. “Thanks for listening and understanding.”

Q. Why did you decide to issue a statement? You said you wrote it before The Open. What went into your decision to do this?

JENNIFER CAPRIATI: I just was tired of all the questions about my past, just all the mystery. Just once and for all, I wanted to get it over with. I mean, I’m tired of like every time I read something about myself, I always read that little tidbit about the past. I just hope by doing this, it will sort of just end that chapter, and I can start new, life.

Q. You were down 3-5 in the first set; you played a really tremendous game, played maybe your best game of the match to get back to 4-5. Then you came back over to serve into the sun and lost at Love. What happened in that point?

JENNIFER CAPRIATI: I think maybe I started off the game with a double-fault, you know, out of nerves, whatever, I just started it that way. I mean, she just, you know, jumped all over me the next point. She just played a good game, and I wasn’t able to, you know, close that out or do any better in that game. I mean, she was just playing well the whole match. I just didn’t take advantage of that opportunity.

Q. You didn’t start off the game with a double-fault. She hit a backhand winner off one of your better serves to start the game, just to correct you a little bit.

JENNIFER CAPRIATI: Maybe the 4-3 one.

Q. It’s immaterial, but you didn’t start off the game with a double-fault.

JENNIFER CAPRIATI: I know on one of them I did, twice.

Q. Do you remember that match you played against Monica at La Costa in 1991?


Q. You won. What do you remember about it?

JENNIFER CAPRIATI: I was just going over how I just wanted to like forget the past. Talk about now.

Q. This is a savory part of your past.

JENNIFER CAPRIATI: It’s all sacred.

Q. Nothing unpleasant about it; you played a great match that day. I just wondered if you remember it.

JENNIFER CAPRIATI: Yes, of course I remember the match.

Q. Monica said just a few minutes ago that it was great to see you back, and she thought you were pretty close to being with the elite players right now. How do you feel, as far as your level of play, and do you think you need to take more steps to be consistently with the players like Seles and Williams and Hingis, people like that?

JENNIFER CAPRIATI: Yeah, I mean, I don’t think I’ve played that many big matches. I just started doing better this year, like the middle of the year. You know, really the only other top player I played was Lindsay, just Nathalie, but really like Lindsay was 1 or 2 at the time, I don’t know. You know, I think that’s a different situation, I mean, to just be like — mentally, it’s another level, I think. I’ve got to get used to playing those kind of matches. I felt like I got a little nervous there a few times in the match and just didn’t really know how to handle the big points. You know, when I play against the top players, they’re not going to give me any free points. I’ve just got to learn to be as tough as them.

Q. Do you feel like you’ve made any strides in this tournament this summer, both on the court and then coming to write this and read this today, personally? Do you feel a difference right now?

JENNIFER CAPRIATI: Yeah. I mean, I feel like just a new person completely. I mean, I’m still the same person, you know. I’ve just gone into another place, you know. I’m just older. I just feel like just a real mature adult now. It’s completely different.

Q. Do you feel happier?


Q. When did you actually write the letter? The day before The Open? When did you decide you were going to write this letter to the media?

JENNIFER CAPRIATI: When I felt the time was right, when it was appropriate. You know, I wasn’t sure after each match if I should have because I was like, “Oh, I don’t want to like jinx anything.” I just waited till at least I wasn’t playing anymore. I was either going to do it maybe before the tournament started so it would set the ground rules for the rest of the tournament, but I didn’t do that.

Q. When did you actually write the whole thing?

JENNIFER CAPRIATI: I don’t know. Just like probably a week before I left for here.

Q. Was it a tough thing for you to sit down and write it?

JENNIFER CAPRIATI: No. I mean, I’ve written things like that many times. I always just kept it like in a private place.

Q. When you say you don’t want to talk about the past anymore, what’s the cutoff year? You’ve been playing now for about, let’s say, a year and a half pretty consistently. At what year back are you not comfortable talking about?

JENNIFER CAPRIATI: Well, what everyone asks about, the years that I took the time off. I mean, every time, except for when I started playing tennis again.

Q. So then you’re comfortable talking about what, from the summer of ’98 up until now, beginning of ’98? It’s an important issue. You’re going to be asked about past matches all the time. Are you not comfortable talking about tennis or is it just off-court problems?

JENNIFER CAPRIATI: Tennis, you know, when I watch other players’ interviews, I don’t hear them getting asked all the time, “What about this match? What about when you played before?” Maybe Monica a few more times. I don’t think it should be the same for me. Let’s just talk about now, with everything.

Q. Do you have any plans in the future to talk to kids about trying to avoid some of the troubles that you encountered? Is that something you want to do?

JENNIFER CAPRIATI: Yeah, if they are willing to listen. I mean, it would be something just to give. I mean, obviously, a lot of people know me around the world. Kids know me. Just maybe I’m someone they can relate to or feel that, you know, I could be understanding and would know what they were talking about. Just anything, any situation, just about anything. That’s something I would do.

Q. Have any younger players in the locker room on the Tour approached you at all to ever talk about any of these issues, kind of bounce some things off you?


Q. Wherever you go, you get tremendous fan support, big tournaments, small tournaments, in America or not. You mentioned the fan support in your written comments. Can you reflect and give us a specific example where fans in general, a specific fan, was really supportive for you and it helped you?

JENNIFER CAPRIATI: I mean, I just — just people who come up to me here and there at tournaments. They just don’t want anything. They will say they think it’s great what I’m doing or how well I’m doing. Just in my fan mail, I read my fan mail, just things like that. I can see the support. I hear the support. If nobody was saying anything, I would know that, too. It’s like I really hear them.

Q. So you really feel people are pulling for you?

JENNIFER CAPRIATI: Yeah. I think they are.

Q. In that forbidden past, eight years ago you played one of the best matches that we’ve ever seen here against Seles. The next year you won an Olympic Gold Medal; played awfully well those days. Are those verboten now, you don’t talk about those?

JENNIFER CAPRIATI: We can talk about those ones (laughter).

Q. Coming into this season, what kind of expectations did you have for yourself, and do you feel you’ve met them, exceeded them? Just sort of reflect upon this past summer season, particularly.

JENNIFER CAPRIATI: I think I actually did better. I’ve done better than I thought I would, really. I didn’t know really to what to expect, what kind of tennis I was going to play, what improvements I was going to make. I was just really thinking positive. With Harold coming into the picture, you know, I just was thinking positive, that I was just going to do a lot better. You know, it started in practice. I was just doing better. It went into the tournaments. I really didn’t expect to win a tournament. I mean, I did in a way, but I didn’t. I didn’t think it would just come so soon. I thought it would take a little while longer. I was just very happy about it.

Q. Was Monica ever an example to you? Did you ever feel that how she came back from being stabbed at a tournament, “I should be able to do that, too”?

JENNIFER CAPRIATI: I admire her and respect her a lot. I can’t imagine how tough that must be, having that done to you. I mean, she was in no control over it. You know, my situation was different. I was in complete control or — I don’t know. I just respect her for just staying tough and still pursuing something that she obviously loves very much.

Q. Do you feel that’s what propelled you both back into the game?

JENNIFER CAPRIATI: Not really because I watched her or I don’t think because she watched me. It’s just something that’s maybe just natural in both of us.

Q. I have a question for you about the future. You’ve been Top 10 and you’ve been very close to Grand Slam finals. If after, say, two years of this comeback you’re still playing good tennis but not the kind of tennis you played before you took your hiatus, are you inclined to stay with it and just plod on or would you want to get on with something else in your life?

JENNIFER CAPRIATI: I can’t answer that now. I mean, I don’t know. I’m just taking it day-by-day. The future, I mean, ask me that in two years and then I’ll know. I mean, I change every day, you know. So I don’t know.

Q. Speaking about the future, now you’re a more mature person. Is there anything about your private life that is in your goal, say that you have a different goal than before, something that can help you maybe even in the tennis part of your life? Is there anything like that, do you think?

JENNIFER CAPRIATI: I’m sure there is. I really just haven’t had much time to really think it through, what I want to do. I mean, right now for a while I’ve been so focused on trying to come back, trying to concentrate on the tennis. I haven’t really thought of much else. Right now, I think for a while, that’s all I want to put my focus on, you know, direct my attention to, is just tennis right now.

Q. You’ve had so many press conferences in your life. Was this maybe the hardest one? We’ve all been critical of you at one time or another. Was it hard to read a statement like that?

JENNIFER CAPRIATI: Yeah, it was hard. But I’ll tell you, now I’m the most confident that I’ve ever been in a press conference. You know, I don’t think I could really get bothered like I did before. No, this is like the better of them, I think.

Q. Were there any press conferences over the years where your past was not brought up? Did that ever happen?

JENNIFER CAPRIATI: Oh, yeah, when there was like one person in the room maybe or something (laughter).

Q. Plenty of athletes do talk about the ups-and-downs of their careers. Even in tennis, Andre Agassi is asked about his all the time, Monica, Steffi. Why do you feel like your career should be looked at differently than everyone else’s?

JENNIFER CAPRIATI: Well, first of all, I think what happened with me doesn’t happen too often. Maybe with like basketball and football players, I don’t know. You know, especially just I think it was really a unique situation, being that it happened when I was very young. Just really, it was all self-inflicted. You know, what happened to Monica, Steffi, you know, it was really not their doing; it was people around them. Andre, I don’t think he’s been through that. I mean, not that we know of. I don’t know. Who knows?

Q. Was this statement exclusively your idea or did some people come to you and say that this would be a good time, at this tournament, to finally say it?

JENNIFER CAPRIATI: No. It really did come from me. I’d been wanting to do it for a long time. It’s just been nagging at me. I thought now would be the best time in that I’ve just been consistent with the way I’ve been doing, tennis. It was just now that I felt, like, ready.

Q. Did you run it by anybody?

JENNIFER CAPRIATI: Yeah. I mean, I just like told my dad about it. I didn’t tell my mom. She’s going to be like, “What? What happened?” But that’s really it.

Q. You said that there was no reckless drug use, but there were mysteries. You never really came out and talked about all that. Is that something that you still don’t ever want to discuss publicly?

JENNIFER CAPRIATI: Right now, I don’t think that’s appropriate to talk about. I mean, that’s maybe something I will talk about, maybe to another group of people, someone who is just like going to relate to, who is really going to listen and take it directly to the heart. I mean, you’re just going to kind of write it down on a paper for people to read. That’s not something that I want. You know, I want when they hear it to hear it from my own words.

Q. That’s what people write down on paper, what your words are.

JENNIFER CAPRIATI: Really? That’s not been too true in the past, not every time.

Q. When athletes have talked openly like that, they’ve had a sense of relief afterwards sometimes, even though it may be hard to do. You don’t think you would have that?

JENNIFER CAPRIATI: I didn’t know. I really thought that’s what it was going to do. I just really didn’t know how to handle it, just how to go about saying it, afraid I was going to say something wrong. I didn’t know really what to say that was just going to be right or I wasn’t going to get in trouble or anything like that, you know. Maybe that’s why I’ve played with a lot of anxiety.

Q. Do you still see the media as your adversary?

JENNIFER CAPRIATI: I’m going to start crying. It’s nothing bad, it’s just — (crying). It’s just a little overwhelming, that’s all.

WTA: Do you want to stop?

JENNIFER CAPRIATI: (Shaking head.) It needs to be done.

WTA: We can stop if you want to.

JENNIFER CAPRIATI: I just wish I didn’t have to talk about this stuff all the time.

WTA: Let’s go.

Note: The then 23 year old Jennifer Capriati rebounded from this unfortunate moment and won the 2001 Australian Open and 2001 French Open and became WTA world no. 1 in October 2001, she also won the 2002 Australian Open.


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