Jennifer Capriati, 1990

From Tennis Confidential by Paul Fein, 1990:

The touchy subject of who should get the credit and how much for a star’s success isn’t new.

Robert Lansdorp, Tracy Austin‘s coach for a decade, used to grow incensed when the more famous Vic Braden was mentioned as her first coach. Lansdorp finally lashed back:

“I don’t like Braden getting credit for rolling a ball at Tracy in the crib, and Roy Emerson getting credit for her serve when it hasn’t changed? I’ve done it and I’ve done it all. It’s like a work of art. An artist would feel robbed if somebody else put their name on his painting.”

Lately, Rick Macci has felt similarly robbed. He coached whiz kid Jennifer Capriati for two and a half wonderful and important years, starting in January 1987, when she was ten. Now, Capriati mania and the worldwide avalanche of publicity have largely ignored him and his crucial role in her spectacular development.

“To make the story more Cinderella-like for the public, the marketing line is that it went from Jimmy Evert (her first coach) to her dad (Stefano) and now where she’s at today, at the USTA Training Center,” says Macci. “It’s like the two and a half years at Rick Macci’s Tennis Academy she disappeared and I didn’t exist.”

Macci reasonably acknowledges that before he began training her, Jennifer possessed champion qualities as evidenced by her Orange Bowl 12s crown.

“She was probably born a champion, and she fell into the great hands of Jimmy Evert, who instilled tremendous racket preparation and balance in her ground game.”

Yet Macci knew that Chrissie clones with great ground strokes and little else can no longer attain the pinacle of today’s more athletic and diversified game.

“Jennifer had three-quarters of the package before she came to me, but the remaining one-quarter is the difference between being number ten, number five, or number one some day,” says Macci.

Their big mission was to develop the best serve in women’s tennis. “The trap that a lot of women fall into in pro tennis is to just get the ball in play, instead of making the serve a weapon,” he points out.

So the creative Macci devised a multifaceted approach that this enthusiastic prodigy thrived on. For both instruction and inspiration, they watched, on hundreds of occasions, videos of Martina Navratilova serving, “to try to imitate the fluidity and looseness of her service motion.”

To perfect the classic throwing motion indispensable for an explosive serve, Capriati threw a football to Macci for fifteen minutes nearly every day for two and a half years. She also imitated a hula dancer to get her hips and shoulders to roll in sync during the serve.
Since Capriati was quite stiff and mechanical at the outset, Macci stressed wrist-snap to achieve maximum racket-head speed for greater power. So, standing with her feet locked up inside ball hoppers three feet from the fence, she tried, sometimes as many as five hundred times a day, to whack the ball downward and bounce it over the fence.
Even the mino detail of catching the ball Macci threw to her before each serve became purposeful. Capriati gently caught it on her outstretched racket.

“I wanted her to develop soft hands so eventually she could handle the racket like a magician when she’s out of position, like a McEnroe,” he explains.

All the effort and dedication have already paid off. Capriati, now 5’6″ and a solid 125 pounds, has belted serves timed at ninety-seven miles per hour. Braden praised her serving technique as the best he’d ever seen in a girl her age when she was twelve.
What’s more, Macci vastly improved her volley, gave her a topspin forehand, and positioned her more offensively nearer the baseline so her superb ground strokes could better attack the ball on the rise.
Macci’s devotion and affectionfor her shined as brightly as his expertise. Besides an estimated two thousand hours of on-court coaching, Macci, thirty-five, baby-sat for her and her younger brother and took them out for dinner and the movies. He also wrote her scores of motivational letters before the Capriatis moved to Grenelefe from Lauderhill, when her parents droved her two hundred miles each way every weekend for lessons. Capriati appreciated all of it. In a touching note now framed in Macci’s office, she wrote:

“Dou you know something, I really like my service, it’s really gotten better. I can’t wait to come here again. It’s so fun. You’re one cool dude, awesome and great. See ya soon! Love, Jen.”

The love affair was mutual – and her departure last July traumatic. Macci would confide that it left him feeling “like I know what it’s like to have a daughter who’s died.” Eight months later, the gratifying result of their fruitful relationship was her incredible professional debut at the $350,000 Virginia Slims of Florida. There, still only thirteen, she knocked off players world-ranked at numbers 110, 34, 19, 16 and 10 (Helena Sukova) and forced number 3 Gabriela Sabatini to play “my best tennis” before yielding only 6-4 7-5 in the final.

Capriati has even bigger fish to fry, though – namely, the current queen of tennis.

“Every time we played a match, the whole focus would be to prepare her to play Graf”, recalls Macci. “I always hit the inside-out forehand and the heavy slice backhand crosscourt. I had her competing with the best sixteen-and-eighteen-year-old boys in the world all the time. I have no doubt I did all the right things to prepare her.”

Macci is convinced that Capriati’s style will match up quite effectively against the West German superstar.

“Why? Because Jennifer’s best shot is her backhand down the line, and Jennifer can keep the exchanges even or stay in control – whereas when Graf plays other people, she definitely is controlling the show.”

Could amazing Jennifer beat Steffi this year?

“No doubt, in my mind. She has a very legitimate chance,” predicts Macci. “Once thing I’ve always liked about Jennifer is that she has respect for opponents, but she has no fear of anyone.”

Jennifer Capriati, Boca Raton 1990

By Dave Scheiber, Sports Illustrated, March 1990

Dazzling new tennis star Jennifer Capriati, 13, showed that her future is now by deftly handling more-experienced opponents – and the media – in her professional debut.

While hundreds of reporters descended of The Polo Club in Boca Raton, while thousands of spectators spilled through the gates, while other players at the Virginia Slims of Florida gazed at the mob scene with bemusements, the cause of all the excitement, 13-year-old Jennifer Capriati, was curled up inside Chris Evert‘s elegant stucco house several blocks from the stadium court, watching a rerun of The Bionic Woman. “It was a way for me to relax a little”, she said.

As it turned out, Capriati couldn’t have picked a more fitting show to tune in to as she savored some privacy with her father, Stefano, her mother, Denise, and her brother, Steven. Later than afternoon, faster than you could say Lindsay Wagner, Capriati dismantled 10-year veteran Mary Lou Daniels 7-6 6-1 – for the record, the date was March 6, 1990 – to earn a victory in her first match as a pro. By week’s end Capriati, the kid with the grown-up groundstrokes, had served stirring notice that a new American tennis heroine had arrived, ready to pick up where Evert left off when she hung up her racket last year.

“This wasn’t a debut,” said Ted Tinling, the 80-year-old tennis eminence. “It was a premiere!”

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Capriati and Sabatini, Boca Raton 1990

From Hard courts: real life on the professional tennis tours, by John Feinstein:

Long before she played her first match as a professional, Jennifer Capriati was the hottest thing going in women’s tennis. Labeled a prodigy at the age of nine and, without having hit a ball yet as a pro, a thriving corporation at the age of thirteen, she had already been the subject of lenghty stories in Sports Illustrated, The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and USA Today. Time, Newsweek, The Washington Post, The National, and the rest of the world would follow shortly. Each would tell essentially the same story:
Capriati was the oldest of Stefano and Denise Capriati’s two children. Stefano was Italian; Denise, American. They had met in Spain; Denise had lounging by the pool when Stefano had popped his head out of the water and asked her to dinner. He was fifty-four, she was thirty-nine. He was dark and stocky, she was blond, petite, and very pretty. He had played soccer, worked in real estate and, for the past ten years, focused much of his life on Jennifer. Denise was a flight attendant. They had moved from Fort Lauderdale, where Jennifer had taken lessons from Chris Evert’s father, at age five, to Saddlebrook, a tennis resort. There, the people who rran the resort, the USTA and anyone else who could get in the door, fought to take credit for Jennifer’s prowess.

Jennifer Capriati wasn’t just another teenager who could stand at the back of the court and bang ground strokes all day. Forst and perhaps foremost, she was American. Born on Long Island, raised in Florida (after a brief interlude in Spain), she was an all-American girl who happened to be very pretty. She had her father’s dark skin and broad shoulders and her mother’s attractive features.
Women’s tennis was desperately in need of American star with sex appeal. Even at thirteen it was apparent Capriati was the answer. Ever since Chris Evert had first flashed across the tennis horizon in 1971 en route to icon status, tennis had been in search of the next Chrissie. Tracy Austin and Andrea Jaeger had burned out. Pam Shriver never won Grand Slam singles titles. Steffi Graf and Gabriela Sabatini weren’t American. Neither was Monica Seles, even if she had lived in Florida for four years, even if she did speak English with a midwestern accent.
Everyone in tennis has always agreed on the need for American stars. When no American-born male reached the semifinals of a Grand Slam tournament in 1986, near panic set in. That was why Andre Agassi became so rich so fast when he began to win in 1988. He was the American that sponsors, television people, bureaucrats, and fans were starving for.
The situation had never gotten quite that desperate on the women’s side. Evert was still a top-five player right up until she retired, at the 1989 US Open, and Martina Navratilova was accepted as an American by some, if not by all. Starting out 1990, though, the only American-born player in the Top ten was Zina Garrison, who was black. The people who control the money in tennis – corporations – don’t think there is much market for a black player in their sport. As a result, Garrison, the fourth-ranked player in the world, didn’t even have a shoe or clothing contact.

That was where Capriati came in. By age nine, agents and manufacturers were already negotiating with her father. She was wearing Ellesse clothing by the time she was ten. Cino Marchese, the IMG agent who is the majordomo of the Italian Open, remembers having a handshake agreement with Stefano to bring his daughter to the Italian Open when she turned pro. Jennifer was nine when the two men shook hands.
In 1989 Capriati won both the French and US Open junior titles, confirming her status as The Next One. Already, the Women’s Professional Tennis Council was passing what would become known as “Capriati Rules”. The first (Capriati I) stated that a player could not participate in professional events before turning fourteen. The second (Capriati II) amended that to say that a player could play a pro event in the same month that she turned fourteen. Capriati turned fourteen on March 29; Boca began on March 5. What a coincidence! The press release announcing the amendment specifically said that these rule changes were not aimed at Jennifer Capriati. (And Zina Garrison’s lack of a clothing contract had nothing to do with her being black…) […]

Capriati was entered in the tournament as a wild card since she didn’t have any points on the computer yet. Every tennis tournament reserves several places in its draw for wildcards – Boca Raton had two spots saved – in case a big star decides to enter at the last minute or an injured player comes back from an injury or an up-and-coming young player comes along. Wild cards are frequently abused by tournament directors, but in Boca they had been used perfectly. the two wild cards were Capriati and Anke Huber, the fifteen-year-old German who, in Australia, had been dubbed the next Graf.

Huber wasn’t about to get noticed this week, though. It was as if the rest of the tennis world had become invisible; This would turn out ot be a wild and fascinating tournament, but no one would pay attention. Jen-Jen mania was completely out of control. […]

Tuesday, March 6, was the day the hype finally became reality. By this time Capriati had been forced to sneak off to faraway courts in order to practice in private. Evert had gone off to Aspen for the week to leave the stage clean for her protégée. The day was hot and sunny. Capriati-Mary Lou Daniels was the fifth match on the schedule. By noon there was chaos in the press tent because there weren’t enough seats to go round. There was no press section, so seats in the stands had to be found, and there were not very many of them available.
By 3:40 the stands were packed and the crowd was restless. The previous match had been over for twenty minutes but there was no sign of Capriati. Finally, at 3:43, Capriati and Mary Lou Daniels appeared. They walked exactly three feet onto the court and were besieged by photographers. They stopped and posed. And posed. And posed.
Daniels was almost a perfect opening-day opponent for Capriati. She was twenty-eight, married, and had been featured in commercials for Coast soap at one point. She had once been ranked as high as No. 15 on the computer, but that was eight years ago, when she was still fresh-faced Mary Lou Piatek. […]

Seeing her up close for the first time, amny in the crowd were surprised by her side. Still three weeks away from fourteen, Capriati was almost five feet seven and weighed at least 130, perhaps more. None of it was fat, though; she was simply big boned and extremely mature.

“She doesn’t hit the ball like a thirteen-year-old,” Daniels said. “She hits more like Steffi Graf.”

Capriati’s nerves and Daniels’ competence kept the first set close. Capriati lost the first point of her career – history will record that it came at 3:57 pm, when she netted a backhand – but quickly won the first three games. Daniels came back to lead 6-5, but Capriati won the tiebreak 7-1, then won the second set easily, 6-1. It had taken seventy minutes.
Everyone was happy. The crowd knew it had seen the real thing and responded with a standing ovation. Daniels was impressed. “She’s worth all the hype,” she said. Other players who had wandered out to watch were equally impressed. “Gee, I wish I had brought my camera,” Pam Shriver said, watching all the commotion. Stefano was happy, too, accepting congratulations from all sides. John Evert (Chris sister and Capriati’s agent), who from that day forth would be knwon in the media as “Colonel Parker” was thrilled to see that the kid could handle it all.
Even the ravenous media was happy. When Capriati came in to a jammed press conference, someone asked her about what she thought of the whole experience.

“Well, she I think playing my first match was great. But the media is really sort of out of control.”

The rest of the week was all Jen-Jen. In the second round, she recovered from losing the second set 6-0 to Claudia Porwik to win her first three-setter. She upset eighth-seeded Nathalie Tauziat and crushed No. 4 Helena Sukova 6-4 -1 in the quarterfinals. Then she beat Gildemeister in the semis. In five days she had won five matches, beating three top-twenty players along the way. She also played doubles with Billie Jean King, even winning a first round match.
Capriati’s joyride ended in the final, when Sabatini beat her 6-4 7-5. But it didn’t matter. the match was close, the crowd loved the whole thing, and it proved that as good as the kid was, she was human. People were beginning to wonder.

What made it all so appealing was Jen-Jen herself. She was completely thirteen, full of giggles and “I means” and “you knows.”
John Evert had advised the Capriatis not to hire a media trainer, at least for the moment. Evert figured – correctly – that a wide-eyed thirteen-year-old who sounded like a wide-eyed thirteen-year-old would be much more appealing than someone who sounded trained.
Virginia Slims, image conscious to a fault, had kept a media trainer on staff for years. More often than not, this training was beneficial to the players although one could tell from a hundred miles away when a player had just been through the sessions. Seles, for example, never referred to a tournament as just “Washington” or “Houston”; it was always “Virginia Slims of Washington” or “Virginia Slims of Houston.”

For now, Capriati would be allowed to be herself. She mouthed all the appropriate clichés and charmed everyone right out of their socks. When the week was over, there was no doubt that a star had been born and that Jen-Jen mania would continue unabated for quite a while. Bud Collins summed it up best when the tournament was over.

“What was that old broad’s name?” he asked. “Everet? Evette? Played twenty years ago, right?”

In 1990 at the Virginia Slims of Capriati in the year of Jen-Jen I, Chris Evert might as well have played twenty years ago.

Chris Evert, Fed Cup 1989

Published in World Tennis Magazine, December 1989.

In October 1989, Chris Evert represented the United States for the last time in the Federation Cup. Here, she recounts the week.

Tuesday

Our first-round match is against Greece. I play Christine Papadaki, who I have never played or even seen before. The stress I feel before the match has nothing to do with the match itself, but with whether I will fit into the new tennis skirts the USTA made for us. They have red, white and blue sequined flags on the front. Anyway, Martina (Navratilova) and I overcame our jet lag (we arrived in Tokyo the night before after playing in a series of exhibitions) to win easily. Pam (Shriver) and Zina (Garrison) win the doubles.
We go to the NEC Sponsor Dinner later that night. NEC has been sponsoring the Fed Cup for eight years, and the buffet is great. Lots of giveaways too (television sets, pearls, walkmans, silks).

Wednesday

I wake up at 7 am to the sound of rain. We are scheduled to play Denmark, and we go indoors to hit just in case the weather clears up. Sure enough, by 11:30 we are on the court. The first round was played on court 4, a fast court, and this round we’re playing on court 1, which is very slow. It’s hard to figure out why a huge, impressive facility like this (it’s much bigger than Flushing Meadows) doesn’t have uniform-speed surfaces. No matter. I prefer the slower court and beat 16-year-old Karin Ptaszek easily 6-1 6-1. Martina, however, has trouble adjusting and Tine Scheuer Larsen takes advantage of some great passing shots to stretch Martina to 7-5 6-3. Zina and Martina win the doubles. Another 3-0 victory.
I’m still crossing my fingers, but so far team spirit is very high. Our coach, Marty Riessen, is good at dealing with four high-strung perfectionnists. I’m eally motivated – I just hope it lasts all week. The tough matches will begin Friday against Austria.

Thursday

It’s a day off for the team, but I get early and go through a tough but fun two-on-one with Zina and Pam. Zina is hitting the ball so solidly and moving so well, it’s too bad that, at No. 5 in the world, she isn’t playing in a singles match somewhere. I think that reaching the US Open semis (by beating me!) and getting married (to Willard Jackson) have inspired Zina tremendously. She is coming into her own, which is great to see.
Pam, on the other hand, has come to a crossroads in her career and personal life. This is not an easy time for her: she is frustrated by injuries, her split with Martina in doubles, and her indecisiveness about whether or not to dedicate herself 100 percent to tennis. I really like Pam: she is bright and witty and multidimensional. I have no doubt she will emerge from this low period in her life stonger and wiser.

Friday

Here we are in the quarter-final match against Austria. I’m playing Judith Wiesner on center court. We both play well, and because she’s a baseliner we have some very long rallies, though I eventually pull it out. Martina beats Barbara Paulus and the doubles is called off because of rain. Pretty routine, I just heard that the Czechs beat West Germany. Martina is upset, she wanted a rematch with Steffi (Graf).

Saturday

It rains all day, matches are cancelled.

Sunday

Czechoslovakia, the match we’ve all been gearing up for. Helena Sukova and Jana Novotna are excellent singles players as well as No. 1 in the world in doubles. In other words, we don’t want to get into a 1-1 situation with them.
I’m ready and I’m focused. I pass Jana at the net and serve effectively to win 6-2 6-3. I think the Czechs were counting on winnning this match. In fact, I think a lot of players think they can beat me because I’ve had some loose, careless matches (for me) this year. But I’m determined not to give an inch.
My heart is in my mouth as Helena storms into the net at every possible moment against Martina and wins the first set 6-4. All of a sudden, our chances of winning this Federation Cup are in jeopardy. If Martina loses to Helena, it will be up to the doubles and the Czechs will be favored. But using the new-found determination that Billie Jean King has worked to rekindle, Martina blows Helena off the court in the second set 6-1, and then shows guts in winning the third, 6-4. In our minds this was the Cup final and we all share a sigh of relief.
One more to go. It has been three long years since we last won the Cup in Prague. We want it back.

Monday

They’re calling the final with Spain ‘thirtysomething’ versus the 17 year olds. Conchita Martinez and Arantxa Sanchez, both of whom are in the Top Ten, pose a real threat to me and Martina because of their slow-surface prowess. I feel a little bit apprehensive today because we have been psyching ourselves up more for the germans and Czechs than the Spaniards, because of my lack of knowledge about my opponent (Martinez) and because, more than likely, this will be my last tournament match. That could explain why I woke up at 5:30 this morning. I start to get uptight, but I finally convince myself not to worry, enjoy the competition, and work hard for one more match.

With Pam, Martina and Zina cheering me on from the sideline, I once again play intense, heads-up tennis to beat Conchita 6-3 6-2. Asked after the match why I am retiring when I’m playing so well, I start to realize why everyone on our team is in top form: we have camaraderie, we have Riessen as our coach on the court, and who wouldn’t improve practicing with Martina, Pam and Zina every day?
I think Martina is so relieved that I won my singles (and she is genuinely happy for me) that she forgets about her own game for a while. After losing the first set to Sanchez 0-6, Martina guts out the next two, 6-3 6-4. We have clinched the Cup! Pam and Zina then come out with 3-0 written in their determined eyes and makes us all proud by winning 7-5 6-3.

Andy and my parents watch the ceremony from the sideline. It is bittersweet: I am happy and proud; I am also sad. Later on in the locker room I get a migraine and shed the tears that have been bottled up for quite a while. I’m having a hard time dealing with the finality of it all and still find myself questioning my decision to retire. When I think of how well I played this week and the adrenaline flowing and the highs of winning, it’s hard to think of retiring. But then I force myself to remember the hard work, intense concentration, sore body, total commitment and disheartening losses. Retirement is all at once very calming.

Marion Bartoli

In the players’ box, in the Royal Box, in the commentary box or on the courts, former champions were everywhere!

2-time Wimbledon champion Stefan Edberg, Roger Federer’s coach:

Stefan Edberg

3-time champion Boris Becker, now Novak Djokovic coach:

Boris Becker

Amélie Mauresmo, Andy Murray’s new coach and winner in 2006:

Wimbledon 2014

Sue Barker:

Sue Barker

John McEnroe and Tim Henman:

Wimbledon 2014

Ion Tiriac and Ilie Nastase:

Wimbledon 2014

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