Jennifer Capriati ended an otherwise encouraging run at the U.S. Open in tears today, leaving her post-match news conference in a hunched puddle of frustration, turmoil and longing.
The 23-year-old Capriati's breakdown, seemingly the result of a build-up of emotion as opposed to any one question, came at the end of a long day that started with a 6-4, 6-3 fourth-round loss to old rival Monica Seles. Seles was one of several seeds who advanced -- qualifier Nicolas Escude provided the day's lone upset by defeating No. 10 Marcelo Rios, 6-2, 6-3, 7-5 -- but despite several sharp performances around the grounds of the USTA National Tennis Center, Capriati's comments remained the focus of an emotional day.
The tone of Capriati's news conference was serious from the start, when she read a statement in the hopes of ending discussion about her tumultuous past. Capriati said she had written the statement about a week before the Open began but waited to deliver it until her run here was over.
That run turned out to be longer than even she expected, but with her strong performance also has come a revival of questions about her absence from tennis for the better part of the five years between 1993 and 1998. Her time away from the sport included arrests for shoplifting and drug possession, shattering the successful yet pressure-filled career she embarked on when she turned professional two weeks before her 14th birthday.
"I know there is much mystery, much question to what happened, and I must also say many lies," Capriati said in her statement. "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.
"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."
Capriati took questions about her remarks, although she declined to clarify many of her thoughts, saying she wanted instead to wait and tell her full story "to another group of people, someone who is just going to relate to it and really listen and take it directly to heart." As she continued she became more flustered, at one point even declining to discuss her early tour victories.
"I was just going over how I just wanted to forget about the past," Capriati said. "Let's talk about now. . . . I'm tired of every time I read something about myself, I always read that little tidbit about the past. I just hope by doing this, I can sort of end that chapter and start a new life."
Capriati later amended her comments, laughing as she declared it okay to discuss her 1992 Olympic gold medal. She also talked quite a bit about her future as she tries to again become an elite player on the WTA Tour. Since returning to the tour full-time, Capriati has won a clay court tournament in Strasbourg, Germany, and reached the fourth round both here and at the French Open.
Today, she certainly showed flashes of her elite form, battling back several times when Seles broke her service game. But Seles, whose game has been going through a revitalization of its own, was simply too much for Capriati. The match reminded many of the battle the pair fought in the semifinals here in 1991, which Seles won before going on to defeat Martina Navratilova to claim her first U.S. Open title.
It was a much more innocent time for both players; by the time the Open rolled around three years later, Capriati had been arrested and Seles had been stabbed by a deranged fan, knocking her out of tennis for two years.
"Things happen in your life," Seles said after today's match. "It's great to see that Jennifer's back, she's enjoying it and that I'm playing, too -- that we're just going on with our lives. We're not stuck and still worried about what could have been, and all that stuff. We're just here and trying to change the future."
But by the end of her news conference today, a fragile-looking Capriati seemed much less at peace with herself than Seles. She was composed until she was asked, "Do you still see the media as your adversary?" Capriati has blamed media pressure as a reason for some of her past troubles, although she also has been the subject of many sympathetic stories throughout her career, especially since beginning her recent comeback.
She paused, then said, "I'm going to start crying. It's nothing bad, it's just . . . " Capriati then began sobbing, putting her head down on the table in front of her. When it appeared she could not continue, she was led back into the hallway toward the players' locker room. She looked up, sad and wistful all at once.
"It's just a little overwhelming, that's all," she said. "But it needs to be done."