- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 3, 2002

WIMBLEDON Jennifer Capriati is the most formidable obstacle standing between the Williams sisters and complete domination of women's tennis. Given Capriati's dubious past and petulant, paunchy present, you might as well admit it's the Williamses' world.
Capriati needed less than 45 minutes to dismiss Elena Daniilidou at the All England Club yesterday, completing Monday's rain-suspended match with a convincing 6-1 flogging in the deciding set. The 26-year-old Capriati, who meets Ameile Mauresmo in one of today's two remaining quarterfinals, has faced little resistance from the draw so far at Wimbledon.
But Serena Williams likely awaits her in the semis. And between her recent record against Serena (five straight losses) and a number of disturbing signs in her personality of late, Capriati looks like an unlikely candidate to dethrone the hottest player in the women's game.
"I think I'm feeling more comfortable on the grass," said Capriati, who has seen her baseline-heavy game aided by the slower conditions at Wimbledon this year. "You know, just as you really get used to the grass, the tournament's over. But I think I'm ready for the real gutchecks to begin."
Capriati's confidence certainly doesn't mirror the rest of the tennis world's take on the current state of her career.
"I think we always worry a little about Jenny," said one former women's standout who preferred to remain anonymous. "She just doesn't seem real happy right now."
Nobody ever has accused Capriati of having a sunny disposition, at least not since she went from being the youngest player (14) to win a match at Wimbledon in 1990 to the bloated, angst-ridden definition of dissolution by the middle of the decade. From 1994 to 1998 this monster talent made it to the second round in a Grand Slam event just once, making headlines instead for her drug problems and arrest for shoplifting.
Of course, all those problems seemed behind her when she dropped 20 pounds before the 1999 season, reconciled with father/coach Stefano and became tennis' comeback kid with victories at the Australian and French Opens last year.
But the signs so far this season have not been good. The paunch around her midsection has been steadily growing. You could always pinch an inch, but now it's closer to a foot.
On court during the current fortnight, she's led the women's draw in obscenities hurled at linesmen. And off the court, she's recently been romantically linked to Matthew Perry of "Friends" fame. Perry, of course, has twice been to rehab for his abuse of alcohol and prescription drugs. Capriati has never openly discussed the relationship, but perhaps their mutual struggles allow them to relate and cope. More likely, it's a match made in Robert Downey Jr.-meets-Courtney Love hell.
Coincidentally, the WTA announced earlier this week they are considering instituting a program of random, off-site drug testing. Though the program would be targeted at possible steroid abuse, Capriati reacted strongly to the general notion of off-site testing yesterday.
"I think that's a bit of an invasion," said Capriati, a one-time cannabis aficionado. "I just don't think they have any right to kind of see what's going on inside your body, even if you're not doing anything."
Interestingly, nobody interviewed yesterday voiced a stronger opinion on the subject than Capriati. And as if the day wasn't already rife with reminders of Capriati's past, former boyfriend Xavier Malisse edged Canadian transplant Greg Rusedski in another fourth-round match yesterday, advancing to the first Grand Slam quarterfinal of his career.
The 21-year-old Belgian was Capriati's traveling companion for several years during the darkest stretch of her career. But, of course, Capriati didn't want to discuss his success or their relationship yesterday.
"I'm not really going to comment on that," Capriati said when asked about Malisse. "It's something of the past. All I'm going to say is that I'm glad to see him doing well."
Capriati was equally prickly concerning most subjects yesterday. When asked about her image, she pleaded indifference. Apparently, it doesn't bother her that her blood-red dye job and propensity for hurling about profanities could lead to a bad-girl perception.
"What I've learned is no matter how you try to be, people of the press and everyone else is going to, you know, interpret it the way they want anyways," Capriati said. "I don't worry about my image."
In fact, it doesn't seem like Capriati is particularly worried about anything right now. And quite frankly, that's a disheartening reality considering she's the only woman left in the Wimbledon draw with the experience, power and poise to contend with the Williams sisters.

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