Ny Daily News Article: Former Tennis Star Jennifer Capriati Talks About Her Battle With Depression & Suicidal Thoughts.
Match of her life
Jennifer Capriati tries to beat her demons
BY WAYNE COFFEY DAILY NEWS SPORTS WRITER
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.”
For more than two and a half years, Capriati, 31, has found herself in professional purgatory, afflicted with a debilitating shoulder injury that prevents her from even going out for a backyard hit. She had two surgeries she thought would provide relief, thought she’d rehab for a few months and be back on the tour. It hasn’t happened that way. Capriati has played tennis six times since her last professional match, a 6-0, 6-1 loss to Vera Zvonareva of Russia in November 2004. She will soon have a third operation, and another on her wrist, and also try to find a solution for a degenerative condition in her back. The ordeal has left her feeling abandoned by her former agency, IMG, and staring squarely at her athletic mortality, even as another hardcourt season moves on without her.
Can you imagine how difficult it can be when your body has always delivered strength and power as needed, and suddenly you feel as brittle as a wafer?
“I’ve only known one speed – 100 mph – and now I feel stuck in this place where I can’t move,” she says.
It has been 17 years since Jennifer Capriati emerged as a pony-tailed prodigy, the most heralded underage tennis player of all time, a sweet-faced, ball-bashing girl out of the Saddlebrook Resort who made millions in endorsements before she hit a pro ball, made the finals of her first tournament and even made the cover of Sports Illustrated. “And She’s Only 13!” the headline read. Now the digits are reversed, and hard questions abound. Capriati isn’t the first athlete to be daunted by the impending end of a career, but it sometimes feels that way.
She is sitting on a sofa in a house she is renting while she waits to move into a home she’s building in Tampa. She is wearing a pink tank top and blue shorts and looks strikingly fit, inactivity notwithstanding. She’s a few feet from a flat-screen TV, where she watched Venus Williams win Wimbledon last weekend. It was hard. Watching the Grand Slams is always hard.
“When I stopped playing, that’s when all this came crumbling down,” Capriati says. “If I don’t have (tennis), who am I? What am I? I was just alive because of this. I’ve had to ask, ‘Well, who is Jennifer? What if this is gone now?’ I can’t live off of this the rest of my life.”
Says her brother, Steven Capriati, a lawyer in Tallahassee, Fla., “For any athlete, once you stop doing what you’ve loved for 20 or 25 years and all of a sudden it’s taken away, it can be a tough progression into the next life.”
* * *
If Jennifer Capriati does not make it back to the tour, her legacy will go well beyond her 430 tour victories, her three Slam titles, her Olympic gold medal in Barcelona in 1992, or her epic 1991 Open semifinal with Monica Seles, one of the most riveting tennis dramas in recent memory. It will also entail her becoming a poster girl for the perils of premature stardom, of a childhood cut short by the pursuit of money. It was 1994 when the women’s tour passed the so-called “Capriati Rule,” barring players from turning pro before their 14th birthday and setting limits on how often teenagers could play. The measure was enacted not long after Capriati took almost a two-year leave from the sport, a well-chronicled hiatus that began after a first-round loss to Leila Meskhi of Georgia at the 1993 U.S. Open. Rebelling from the rigors of the tour, the confines of life with her parents, Stefano and Denise Capriati and the impossibly high expectations she and others had for herself, an 18-year-old Capriati took flight. She moved out on her own, made new friends, made a point not to tell people who she was. Eight months after she walked out of Flushing Meadows, she wound up getting arrested for marijuana possession in a seedy Coral Gables, Fla., motel, police taking a bedraggled-looking mug shot that turned up in newspapers all over the world.
Capriati was searching for herself then, too.
“When someone that young has such an incredible level of talent and promise, and the whole world identifies them with it, it can short-circuit the natural process of identity formation,” says Dr. Fred Wertz, chairman of Fordham’s psychology department. The result is that you see yourself in one way, doing one thing. Other options don’t even compute.
Everything she has been through has taught Capriati much about life. If she were to have a daughter who showed athletic promise, she knows for sure would not force-feed stardom. She’d want her to have fun with it, enjoy the process, not get consumed with expectations and seriousness the way Capriati did.
“She’s the most hyped player of all time,” Pam Shriver, the former tour player, once said of Capriati. “Nobody can operate with those kinds of expectations without repercussions.”
As the conversation turns to her greatest moments – the Olympic gold medal 15 years ago, the Grand Slam triumphs – Capriati stops, and her eyes well up. “I’m thinking I’m never going to have those highs again. Nothing is ever going to measure up to that again. But I know it’s not true. I can find another high, whether it’s a family, something I’m passionate about. Now I don’t have anyone telling me what to do. I don’t have to answer to anyone anymore. Now this is my time to shine.”
She admires the energy and dedication of Andrea Jaeger, the former top player who has become a nun, and the commitment Andre Agassi has made to his inner-city school in Las Vegas. She hopes to find her own niche – to become able-bodied again, get after something good and meaningful.
So where does Jennifer Capriati go from here? Some days are better than others. Depression is neither tidy nor predictable. She knows it’s dangerous to isolate, to get into the toxic mindset of believing that nobody can know her pain.
Capriati wants to bring her competitor’s heart to the fore. She is grateful for her family and her financial security, the good things in her life. Two days ago, she saw a chiropractor and kinesiologist who made her feel better. Toward the close of a two-hour discussion, Jennifer Capriati takes a moment to reflect and looks at you and seems resolute and strong, no longer America’s pony-tailed prodigy whacking a yellow-green ball, but a woman in search of respite, and hope.
“I know (suicide) is not the answer,” she says. “I only have one go at this. Even if it’s torturous, you have to stick it out. Maybe this is all a blessing. I’m still young. I still have time to figure it out.
“I have a choice. Am I going to let this defeat me, and make me not even want to be here? Or am I going to do something to not let this break me down, and maybe help other people? That’s the mission I’m on now, to find happiness and positiveness in the future.”
Capriati returned to the game in 1996, and was widely viewed as a 22-year-old has-been. She gradually began to regain her confidence and her punishing groundstrokes and wound up at the pinnacle of the sport, winning the Australian and French Opens in 2001, and the Australian again the next year. She was named female athlete of the year in 2001 by almost everyone.
Even then, though, Capriati often felt hollow inside, suffering from low self-esteem, wondering whether people really liked her, or whether they were just latching on to her celebrity. In her own mind, Capriati either won, or felt worthless.
“If I was at the height of my game, beating Serena Williams, I was on top of the world, but something was still missing inside,” Capriati says. “The happiness factor wasn’t there. I’m still struggling to find out what that is. I’ve always been self-critical. I struggle with trying to like and love myself on a daily basis.”
She stops, and runs a hand through her dark hair. “This is not just about me hitting a tennis ball. This is about the rest of my life. How am I going to live on this earth and wake up happy with who I am? Do I want to go back to tennis just to fill that void again? Is that an escape almost? Is that just the easy way out?”
Some 21 million Americans suffer from depression, according to Mental Health America, a Virginia-based advocacy group. Capriati says she has battled it for much of her life. She is in therapy and has tried medication to alleviate it, but resisted help for a long time. She was afraid what people would think, and wanted to gut it out by herself.
Capriati says she has never tried to commit suicide, never gotten to the point where she had a vial of pills in her hand. Still, the thoughts come and go, less so now than before. It’s hard to know what triggers them. Her frustration over her shoulder and back ailments have been immense. Almost the moment she stopped playing, she felt she was an afterthought to IMG, the agency that represented her for almost 20 years. “Basically, it was , ‘Out of sight, out of mind,’” Capriati says. “There are more important prospects out there at the moment.”
It bothered her that nobody from the USTA called to check in. But Capriati doesn’t want to dwell on perceived slights, or feel like a victim. “I can sit here and point fingers, but what’s important is where I go from here.” Nor does she want to blame her father, the orchestrator of her career. While Capriati believes that turning pro so young “backfired,” and that it was too much, too soon, she believes Stefano Capriati has been unfairly lumped with the tour’s more maniacal tennis fathers, when he really only had her best interests at heart.
Venus Williams struggled in her fourth round match against the Australian Jarmila Groth but prevailed in straight sets 6-4 7-6. Groth served for the second set twice but she got tight and couldn’t close out the match.
Venus will face Tsvetana Pironkova in the quarterfinals she upset Marion Bartoli of France 6-4 6-4.
The number three seed Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark crashed out of Wimbledon. Petra Kvitoka destroyed Wozniacki 6-2 6-0. Wozniacki is a solid player but she just doesn’t have the weapons to beat the power players in the grand slams.
Kaia Kanepi of Estonia continues her strong form she defeated Klara Zakopalova 6-2 6-4. Kanepi upset Samantha Stosur in the first round of Wimbledon.
Meanwhile, Serena defeated former Wimbledon champion Maria Sharapova in straight sets 7-6 6-4. Sharapova had three set points in the first set but she crumbled under the pressure making errors and double faults. In the second set, Serena broke Sharapova’s serve at 2-1 and cruised through the set winning it 6-4.
Sharapova has no plan B she needs to develop more strategy. I am disappointed that Sharapova does not know how to volley. Where are the slices, drop shots, lobs, angles? Maria Sharapova needs more variety in her game, if she wants to return to the top of women’s tennis.
Serena will face Li Na of China in the quarterfinals. Na easily defeated Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland 6-2 6-3. Li won a grass court event in Birmingham England eariler this month.
In the battle of the Belgian tennis stars, Kim Clijsters has proven she’s in firm control of her rivalry against countrywoman Justine Henin. Henin said she wants to win Wimbledon, but she won’t win until she improves her serve. Clijsters beat Henin 2-6 6-2 6-3 and she advances to the Wimbledon quarterfinals. I feel Justine Henin and Maria Sharapova are regressing, they are not improving. Sharapova and Henin both won minor events this year but they have failed to beat the top players.
Sharapova is only twenty three, she has time on her side to improve her game. However, Justine Henin should be very concerned about her lack of progress this year. Henin started 2010 with solid results reaching the finals of Brisbane and the Australian Open finals. During the clay court season, Henin lost to Samantha Stosur in a shocking upset in the fourth round of the French Open. I feel Henin and Sharapova are lacking the self confidence. because of their serves.
Women’s tennis has changed since the 1980s and 1990s, a woman must hold serve consistently and hit aces in order to win grand slam events. Henin and Sharapova need to work on their serves and their volleys if they want to win grand slams again. Will Maria Sharapova and Justine Henin ever reach the top of women’s tennis again?
Telegraph UK Article: Jennifer Capriati May Have Overedosed On Drugs She Is Recovering At A Florida Hospital.
Jennifer Capriati in hospital following suspected drugs overdose
Jennifer Capriati, a Wimbledon semi-finalist against Gabriela Sabatini at in 1991 at the age of 15, has been rushed to hospital in Florida after a suspected drugs overdose.
By Brendan Gallagher
Published: 12:42PM BST 28 Jun 2010
Paramedics responded to a call from a hotel in Riviera Beach early on Sunday morning after the latest in a long line of incidents concerning the troubled former child prodigy.
Capriati was dubbed the ‘Can’t Miss Kid’ by the American press for her exceptional early talent and did claim three grand slam titles – and an Olympic title in 1992 – but she became as well known of the court for her troubled story of drug abuse, binge-eating, insecurity and thoughts of suicide.
“When I looked in the mirror I actually saw this distorted image,” she later recalled. “I was so ugly and fat I just wanted to kill myself really. At the end of a match, I couldn’t wait to get off court. Mentally, I’d just lost it. I wasn’t happy with myself, my tennis, my life, my coaches, my friends.”
By age 25, however, she had battled her way back and in October, 2001 she claimed the world No 1 ranking after a series of victories. But two year later it was starting to come apart again and in July that year she admitted to suffering from depression and having suicidal thoughts again.
In April last year she appeared on US reality TV show ‘The Superstars’ – but eventually had to pull out after aggravating an old injury.