- The Washington Times - Monday, August 6, 2001

By and large, tennis players are a whiny lot. If they're not moaning about the line judges, they're crying about the chair umpires. Or complaining about stomach ailments. Or grumbling about tournament masseuses.

Yet even by the sport's self-indulgent standards, Jennifer Capriati's J'Accuse following her loss to Monica Seles in the Acura Classic quarterfinals last week was downright laughable.

For those who missed it, Capriati suffered a 6-3, 6-3 thumping at the hands of the recently rejuvenated Seles, then more or less blamed the loss on Seles', well, grunting.

"I never really got in a groove," Capriati said. "From the first point she was really aggressive and she was screaming at the top of her lungs. This is the loudest she's ever been. It was extremely hard to concentrate."

Claiming that Seles' grunts were "like interference," Capriati complained to chair umpire Denis Overberg early in the first set. She also yelled "Answer it!" to a spectator whose cell phone was ringing.

"It's tough for me to concentrate with other distractions, like people in the crowd and cell phones," Capriati said. "I have to try to tune that out."

To which we say: How hard can it be?

Or, to quote noted tennis sage John McEnroe: You cannot be serious.

Consider again the vast array of dark forces conspiring against Capriati: Seles' grunting. Cell phones."@People in the crowd."

(As Jen Jen might say: Like, what are they doing here?)

These are hardly major distractions. Or even minor ones. In fact, they shouldn't be distractions at all, unless you're suffering from world-class attention deficit disorder or handling a nitroglycerin-filled racket.

Grunting? Everyone does it.

Cell phones? Everyone has 'em.

And the people in the crowd? Um, they paid to be there. (It stinks. We know.)

Granted, Seles is an accomplished grunter, a "Planet of the Apes" worthy practitioner of the exhaling arts. She's loud. She's distinct. She's even drawn similar complaints in the past most, not surprisingly, when she was kicking tail.

And we're willing to concede that cell phones can be annoying. Especially the ones that play a tune say, the theme from "Three's Company" with every ring.

Still, we ask: How bad can it really be?

Keep in mind that Capriati is, by all credible accounts, a professional athlete. As such, tuning things out is more than just a neat trick to practice on one's spouse and/or children during the fourth quarter of Dallas-Washington. It's an occupational necessity, like running, or cashing huge appearance fee checks.

Moreover, Capriati has it pretty easy, at least compared to her counterparts in other sports.

She doesn't have to hit a second serve with the fans behind the opposite baseline waving Styrofoam pylons. Or life size posters of a half-naked Xavier Malisse.

She doesn't have to dodge stray batteries. (Heck, she doesn't even have to play at Veterans Stadium.)

She doesn't have to endure 50,000 fans doing their best impression of a 747 at takeoff.

(Nor does she have to testify in the Gold Club trial. But we digress.)

No, all Capriati has to do is ignore a couple of "Ugghhhs," "Ahhhhhs," and "Hi-yaaaas," then worry about what she does best: Smacking the living daylights out of a tennis ball.

Which, if you think about it, also makes a fairly annoying noise.

For their part, WTA officials were refreshingly nonchalant about the whole matter. Overberg let Seles play without so much as a warning, while tour supervisor Clare Wood said that Seles' grunting level was "acceptable."

Likewise, Seles seemed baffled after tour officials informed her of Capriati's gripe, noting in a statement that "she did nothing different" than she had in any other match.

Venus Williams whose sister, Serena, is also an accomplished grunter had perhaps the last word on the matter.

"Whatever they do on their side I can't control unless they're cheating, and that hasn't happened since juniors," Williams said. "I guess Serena can get loud at times. It's not illegal. Everyone is free to breathe as they see fit."

And if that's not enough for Capriati, we can only offer this advice:

Next time, try earplugs.

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