Comeback-minded Capriati pays price for erratic play Watanabe takes advantage with 3-set first-round win; Australian Open

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA — MELBOURNE, Australia -- Jennifer Capriati hit another roadblock on her comeback trail today in the Australian Open, a Grand Slam tournament in which she had never before stumbled in the first round.

Not since Wimbledon in 1993 has Capriati gotten past the opening round of a Grand Slam event, and despite encouraging results in recent Corel Tour events, she again came up short yesterday.


Assigned to Court 3, Capriati toiled on the windswept fringes of the tournament. While freight trains rumbled by on adjacent tracks and crows cawed overhead, 78th-ranked Jolene Watanabe played a conservative match and let the erratic and "overanxious" Capriati dig herself a hole.

Watanabe simply kept the ball in play and watched Capriati hit and miss her way to a 6-2, 3-6, 6-4 defeat in a Grand Slam event in which, in two previous appearances during her teen-aged years, she reached the quarterfinals both times.


But these are different times.

Capriati's parents, Stefano and Denise, are still part of her cheering section, but they are divorced now, and the situation has put a huge strain on the entire family. Also, Capriati is hunting for a full-time coach for the first time since she quit the game three years ago.

Capriati's talent, her smooth ground strokes from both sides and her keen competitive instinct remain intact, but they are no longer bolstered by her once limitless confidence.

"I'm not going to let this discourage me, make me think I can't play anymore," said Capriati, now ranked 24th. "I have enough desire to want to reach my potential still. It's such a mental game, so I think one of the most important things is just to find a coach right now."

Capriati's doubles partner here, sixth-seeded Iva Majoli of Croatia, was also the victim of an opening-round upset, losing, 7-5, 6-1, to a Swiss teen-ager, 63rd-ranked Patty Schnyder.

The only seeded man to join last year's champion, Boris Becker, on the sidelines was 13th-seeded Jan Siemerink, who fell, 3-6, 4-6, 7-5, 6-2, 10-8, to Christian Ruud of Norway.

Capriati found herself trailing by 6-2, 3-1 before buckling down against Watanabe, whose 11 double faults gave her opponent plenty of opportunity. But she couldn't hold the momentum.

Although the 20-year-old Floridian recently declared herself so reimmersed in tennis that she intended to chase the No. 1 ranking, the 1-hour-42-minute match yesterday was a reminder that she still has a ways to go.


Seeded players

Yesterday's results

Men's singles, first round

Pete Sampras (1), Tampa, Fla., def. Dinu Pescariu, Romania, 6-2, 6-4, 6-2. Goran Ivanisevic (3), Croatia, def. Ben Ellwood, Australia, 6-2, 7-5, 6-3. Wayne Ferreira (8), South Africa, def. Carlos Costa, Spain, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2. Marcelo Rios (9), Chile, def. Petr Korda, Czech Republic, 7-6 (7-4), 6-3, 6-3. Alberto Costa (10), Spain, def. Patrick Rafter, Australia, 7-5, 6-2, 7-5. Jim Courier (11), Miami, def. Sjeng Schalken, Netherlands, 6-7 (4-7), 6-3, 4-6, 6-1, 8-6. Christian Ruud, Norway, def. Jan Siemerink (13), Netherlands, 3-6, 4-6, 7-5, 6-2, 10-8. Alberto Berasategui (16), Spain, def. Todd Larkham, Australia, 6-1, 6-2, 6-4.

Women's singles, first round

Arantxa Sanchez Vicario (2), Spain, def. Gloria Pizzichini, Italy, 6-4, 6-4. Martina Hingis (4), Switzerland, def. Barbara Rittner, Germany, 6-1, 7-5. Anke Huber (5), Germany, def. Amy Frazier, Rochester Hills, Mich., 0-6, 6-2, 7-5. Patty Schnyder, Switzerland, def. Iva Majoli (6), Croatia, 7-5, 6-1. Lindsay Davenport (7), Newport Beach, Calif., def. Nathalie Dechy, France, 4-6, 6-1, 6-1. Irina Spirlea (8), Romania, def. Naoko Kijimuta, Japan, 6-2, 6-4. Karina Habsudova (9), Slovakia, def. Silvija Talaja, Croatia, 6-1, 6-2. Mary Joe Fernandez (14), Key Biscayne, Fla., def. Laura Golarsa, Italy, 6-2, 4-6, 6-2. Chanda Rubin (15), Lafayette, La., def. Radka Zrubakova, Slovakia, 7-6 (7-2), 6-3.


Today's results

Men's singles, second round

Michael Chang (2), Henderson, Nev., def. Richey Reneberg, Minneapolis, 6-3, 7-5, 6-1. Karsten Braasch, Germany, def. Magnus Gustafsson (12), Sweden, 3-6, 7-6 (8-6), 6-4, 6-4.

Women's singles, second round

Sabine Appelmans (16), Belgium, def. Ann Grossman, Grove City, Ohio, 6-4, 6-1.

Pub Date: 1/15/97