Archive for Sunday, April 28, 2002

United States on brink of elimination

Capriati booted off team over flap with father

April 28, 2002

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— A rift between Jennifer Capriati and captain Billie Jean King, coupled with Monica Seles' upset loss to Austria's Barbara Schwartz, has the United States on the verge of elimination in the Fed Cup.

Capriati, the No. 2 player in the world, was dismissed from the team late Friday for breaking King's strict rules about practices. It meant the United States had to forfeit a singles match Saturday, starting the best-of-five event down 1-0.

Then Seles lost her match to Schwartz, ranked 75th in the world, 7-6 (9-7), 6-2.

The United States, which owns a record 17 Fed Cup titles, is one match away from failing to advance to the second round. The Americans last lost in the first round of Fed Cup competition in 1997, falling to the Netherlands.

"It's definitely a tough hole we're in, so we just have to go out and play one match at a time," Seles said. "We'll just have to go for it."

The Capriati-King rift started early in the week but only became public Friday when King kicked the player off the team.

Under King's rules, all practice sessions are closed to the players' individual coaches and agents, and players are prohibited from practicing on their own time.

Stefano Capriati, the player's coach and father, tried to attend practice sessions early in the week but was barred by King.

It created tension that erupted Friday when Capriati said she planned to practice with her father and a hitting partner after the U.S. team was done for the day.

King told her she was not allowed to do it, Capriati argued, and was kicked off the team.

She never did practice and remained in Charlotte until early evening trying to resolve the issue, finally returning home to Florida when it became clear King would not change her mind, said Barbara Perry, Capriati's agent.

"Her position was she wasn't aware of any rules that she was violating and she just wanted to practice," Perry said. "She doesn't feel like the punishment fits the crime and she's disappointed."

King said the practice rules, which she implemented after the United States won its second consecutive title in 2000, were clearly explained to each of the four players.

Her new guidelines are to stress the team concept of Fed Cup play and remove the red tape of having to go through an individual coach or agent to get to a player.

"This is a week of team, OK," King said Saturday, clearly agitated. "If it wasn't, it would be Monica and myself on this court, Stefano and Jennifer on this court. ... Then we can just not have a team, it's very simple.

"I want the team has to be together. This is the way you do it. It's for this week, it's not every week. When we're together, this is the deal."

Her absence was not popular with the 3,200 fans at the Olde Providence Racquet Club. King was booed as she was introduced before play began, and during her opening remarks to the crowd, a fan yelled out "Where's Jennifer?"

Later, as Seles was trailing 3-1 in the second set, another fan coaxed her own by yelling "Come on Monica, you have to do it! Billie Jean fired your other singles player!"

But Seles said the American team, supported King's decision.

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