Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Tuesday Tirade: All About Tennis


This is a tirade against singleminded devotion to tennis. Well. Sort of. It's more a cautionary tale, as our own Savannah called it when bringing it to my attention over at TAT.

I haven't always been a fan of Jennifer Capriati. Well. Actually, I've never been a fan of hers. Something about her rubbed me the wrong way. But I respected the battles she fought between the lines, especially all those classics against Serena Williams.

Now, however, it seems more and more likely there won't be a new chapter in that great rivalry. For the time being, Jennifer is fighting a far more serious battle. One that will require all the strength and courage she can muster.

I respect her for speaking out and I wish her well.

Match of her life

Jennifer Capriati tries to beat her demons

Sunday, July 15th 2007, 8:10 AM

JUPITER, Fla. - Jennifer Capriati can't remember where she was when she first had thoughts of killing herself. Between the doctor visits and the pain and the idleness, the timeline isn't easy to keep straight.

She just remembers being boxed in by bleakness, battered by doubts about her purpose and her worth, pounding herself harder than she ever hit any tennis ball. Here she was, a Grand Slam champion and Olympic gold medalist and former No. 1 player in the world, reduced to this, a lost soul with a bad shoulder, a woman in a vice grip of depression.

In those dark moments, neither her successes nor her $10 million in career earnings could offer a shred of comfort. She'd look at the baseline of her life and see nothing but her own faults.

"Sometimes you get to a point where you can't stop what you are thinking," Capriati says. "It's like you're being taken over by a demon. You just feel there's no way out of this space you're in. It feels like the end of the world. When you are just so exhausted and tired of feeling that way, you (think), 'I want to be off this planet right now, because I just feel disgusting inside. I can't even stand my own skin, and I just want to get out.'"

Capriati pauses a moment. "The more you stuff it and don't talk about it, the more it festers and eats you up inside," she says. "It helps to talk about it with other people who go through it. You can't wear an iron shield all the time."

Read More


Karen said...

Hi Craig, I was never a fan of JCap but this article brought tears to my eyes. And that is why it is so important that these young men and women who are coming up know that there is more to life than tennis. What does JCap have now? Nothing. Venus and Serena's dad may spout some things that are off the chart, but he has those girls' best interest at heart. The fact that these ladies have finished college and have started businesses of their own and have sought other ventures in which to pour all their energy says a lot about being rounded. There is a lot of pressure to remain at the top and it breaks my heart that fans of JCap will be saddened by her mental as well as physical decline. I hope she recovers and recovers well, both mentally and physically.

Craig Hickman said...

Hi Karen, good to see you. I agree wholeheartedly. I hope she holds on until she gets some healing and can put her heart and soul back into her life.

Megan said...

Hi Craig, JCap was never a huge favorite of mine either but that article was very, very sad. Although the main reason she's off the tour is because of her injuries, I remember thinking after she lost that heart-breaker semi-final to Justine Henin at the US Open a couple of years ago, "This loss is it for her." Even if she had been physically healthy after that, there had been so much pressure on her to win a US Open I really don't think she was capable of emotionally recovering from that loss.

Her story is a cautionary tale to all the kids out there who see trophies, money, fame and nothing else. For all the teeny bopper tennis babes who used to complain about the WTA's "Capriati rule" (Kournikova and Sharapova come to mind), it's a rule that's definitely required. And God forbid somebody out there shines a light on the junior tennis world. I bet that would be a shocker.

I agree with Karen about the Williams sisters. They may have frustrated the WTA and tennis fans (myself included), by taking time off to finish school and become more well rounded people, but when their careers are over, they will have their own sense of accomplishments away from the tennis court to fall back on.

Poor Capriati has to start from scratch. Hopefully she'll have the support she needs to come out on the other side a whole person.

Craig Hickman said...

Well stated, megan. Well stated.

Karen said...

Oh yes Megan. Perhaps some journalist needs to focus on that and do a documentary on the whole junior tennis thing. I am strongly of the belief that some of these "parents" are just pushing these young men and women into a world into which they are just not ready. I recalled during the Tennis Channel Open earlier this year there was a commentator whose major grouse was that her career was given short shrift because she was unable to play during her younger years. She was limited to a certain number of tournaments on the pro tour and it affected her ability to compete. Young pro-athletes are not machines. They have the same issues like all young people. I believe one of the things that is affecting poor Sharapova right now is the fact that for years she has been touted as the next best thing in tennis. Yes she has won 2 major tournaments. Yes she has beaten some of the biggest names i the sport, but right now younger players who are much better than her are coming up the ranks and they are hungry to prove themselves. At what point does she start questioning herself. At what point does she say do I still have the drive to carry on. All athletes should have a Plan B in life just like how they have different plans on the court. You only have to look at poor Tracy Austin. A washed up has been whose sole reason for living these days is to criticse Serena and Venus.

Craig Hickman said...

"You only have to look at poor Tracy Austin. A washed up has been whose sole reason for living these days is to criticse Serena and Venus."

Oh. My. God.

helen w said...

Perhaps this is a lesson for all parents whose children are prodigies, in sports, music, whatever. The temptation for the parents to live out their fantasies through their children must be very powerful; handling a child prodigy must be extremely difficult even for the most well-intentioned of parents.

I had the same reaction on reading this story as you Karen, it really unhelmed me.

I know this is off topic, but it reminds me of an old friend who worked as a psychologist, first way off in the boonies of BC, then in posh West Vancouver. Her practice in West Van had many clients who were profoundly depressed, like Jennifer. While we realized that their pain was both real and substantial, we could also not forget how many resources they had, by way of money, options, etc., in comparison with so many other people. Disadvantaged people also get depressed -- we just don't hear about it, or maybe they have so many other problems to deal with that their depression is way back in the list.

I'm not sure what I'm trying to say here, except that I personally find it hard to sort out the contradictory emotions.

Like Karen, I hope Jennifer finds her way out.

PeytonAllen said...

I actually was/am a huge fan of Capriati. I pretty much grow up watching her play. Remember being home from school and seeing her play in her debut French Open.

If the Cubs and Sox were cursed to never win a World Series, Jennifer's undoing was always the US Open semi-finals. The Seles match. The Henin nightmare. How did she not win that? But almost as bad the next year, losing to Elena in the semis. Having at least once chance to serve for it again. Wow.

We all talk like the tours have learned their lesson, than Jenny was a guinea pig, and i could never happen again. Donald Young anyone? Young himself admitted he stopped playing recently just to get away from it.

I was so happy when she decided to come back the first time. Mainly because I saw her at some tournament, American clay court, and saw she was in shape! WHAT LEGS! Gawd, how many times have I thought about banging that woman? I could ease her pain Craig. I could care for her like nobody ever has. I could....relieve her tension.



Her tennis of late has always been about her self-worth. When she got fit, and loved how she was looking she took off. Was overjoyed to see her beat Hingis that year.

Anyway. It's probably too late for her now. But, hopefully she learns there's more to life than tennis. If she's ready to accept it, life awaits. I hope she gets healthy and has some fun.

But, she still looks good to me! Pink top, black shorts, WOOF! I should've been a journalist.

"So, honey, tell me about your pain..." (lunge)

Craig Hickman said...

Oversexed, peytonallen?

You're the first person I've ever known who that Jennifer was sexy.

As they say, there's somebody out there for everybody.

Karen said...

LOL - Craig you are terrible. Peyton - down boy - if you are that hard up I know this girl in the Cayman Islands who could use some of that "lunge". holler

lapidus48 said...

Ahhh, memories of one of the greatest rivalries in sport--tennis's version of "the Punic Wars"

As for a comment about Tracy Austin: to me, she appears to have done quite well for herself and she, I believe, has been fair and balanced in regard to the Sisters.

lapidus48 said...

"You're the first person I've ever known who that Jennifer was sexy...."

Make that two, Craig, I've always warmed to the notion of Cappy, as I have of Serena.

Craig Hickman said...

Well, alrighty then, lapidus.

And welcome!