Say it ain't so, Jennifer Capriati

March, 21, 2013
3/21/13
10:34
PM ET
Jennifer Capriati proudly took three or four steps from the front row of luminaries to the podium where she would get to tell her story. On a near-perfect Newport afternoon, Capriati tearfully delivered her enshrinement speech into the International Tennis Hall of Fame. She spoke poignantly of acceptance and forgiveness and what it meant at that moment to embrace everything she loved about the sport.

It was only a few minutes long, but she managed to squeeze in a lifetime of reflection. I was there that day some eight months ago and listened intently to a speech that was just as much about confession as it was a collection of achievements. Capriati, as she said, never left the game on her own terms, and that stung for someone who knew little else than the only place she ever really felt at home -- a tennis court. After all the arrests, the glazed-eyed mug shots, the injuries and the depression, gone were the days marred by all that melancholy.

Until now.

[+] EnlargeJennifer Capriati
AP Photo/Elise AmendolaAfter all she went through, the hall-of-fame enshrinement was a picture-perfect day for Jennifer Capriati.
On Thursday, Capriati was charged after allegedly punching her ex-boyfriend on Valentine's Day. Although she was not arrested, Capriati now faces a series of offenses, including stalking and battery in North Palm Beach, Fla.

To be clear, I have no inside knowledge of what did or did not happen. For all we know, it's a terrible misunderstanding. Maybe it's not. Who knows? The point here is not to speculate and belabor this one incident or to admonish her for creating more damaging news. For a player whose career, whose life came crumbling down so many times, this matter, at least on the surface, seems low by comparison.

It's just sad to hear Capriati's name as the centerpiece to another tawdry headline when all her shortcomings seemed to vanish for good that day in Newport. Like anyone else with a modicum of compassion, I wanted the legacy of the newest hall-of-famer to end with that Hollywood moment. And yes, perhaps that's a bit hyperbolic. But think about her story in a nutshell: Teenage prodigy goes pro at 13. The next year, she reaches the semis at the French Open at the ridiculous age of 14. She wins a gold medal in at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona by beating Steffi Graf. And then ... the shoplifting, the arrests, the marijuana. It would foil years of stardom.

All those transgressions led to a 14-month layoff from tennis and seasons of relative anonymity, even when she did return. And then defying any rational mind, Capriati would rock the tennis community with a championship at the Australian Open in 2001 -- eight years after her initial break from the game. Eight years! And, oh by the way, she vanquished the No. 1 player in the world, Martina Hingis, in the final. Capriati would then win the French a few months later, snare the No. 1 ranking in October and defend her Aussie trophy the next year.

So, if that's not the classic feel-good flick for a player who harbored and eventually conquered some very ambitious dreams, then what is, Rudy fans? Capriati had come so far in rediscovering her game, in rediscovering herself.

Newport was a celebration of her wins on the court but more so her win in life. And yes, that might sound hokey, and it is, but her adventure from a naive ponytailed S.I.-cover sensation to a player plagued by countless misfortunes, to the hall-of-fame champion she became, the Jennifer Capriati script was supposed to end right then, right there.

And that's why this latest incident, whatever it turns out to be, is so troubling.

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