NEW YORK -- Jennifer Capriati put her hands to her face, leaned back from the microphone, and started to cry.
Long moments passed.
Finally, wiping her eyes, and looking out at the media and the television cameras, she sobbed:
"I just wish I didn't have to talk about this stuff all the time."
And then she was gone. Gone from the U.S. Open by way of a 6-4, 6-3 loss to No. 4 seed Monica Seles, who will now play No. 7 seed Serena Williams in the quarterfinals; and gone from her post-match interview after again demonstrating her emotional fragility.
The stuff she wants to forget is her past. Like Seles (who was stabbed in 1993) and Mary Pierce (who reportedly suffered abuse from her father) she wants to stuff the bad memories in a box and shove them into the farthest corner of her closet.
Seles and Pierce, who at least once after their personal troubles talked at length about what happened and what they went through to overcome them, now refer reporters who ask about those incidents to past transcripts of those news conferences.
But Capriati has not been willing to open up and so, at nearly every news conference, someone asks her about those dark days.
Yesterday, she read a letter that she felt should "close the envelope." In it, she took full responsibility for the embarrassment, heartache and trouble she had caused herself and those close to her, but added nothing to clarify what had occurred during late 1993, when she was accused of shoplifting a $15 ring and six months later charged with the misdemeanor possession of marijuana.
Her post-match reading distracted from her match against Seles yesterday. It was the first time the two had met here since their exciting 1991 semifinal.
"If you had asked me after that match what would happen," said Seles, "I would have said we were going to have a great, long rivalry. I wouldn't have believed you, if you had said two years later I would be stabbed at a tennis match and Jennifer would have had the problems she has had."
Both have worked hard to restore their careers. Seles did it sooner and with more success, so far. But, on the court, Capriati has regained her equilibrium and her desire, and for the second time this year made it to the round of 16 at a Grand Slam and has shown she is again ready to compete.
As tennis fans filed into the main stadium court, nearly all of them were excited to see how this rematch would turn out -- even Seles.
Eight years ago, when Capriati was 15 and Seles was 19, they played a mesmerizing three-set semifinal. Capriati had been within two points of the final, serving for the match. But Seles roared back and won in a third set tiebreaker.
"I went on to win my first Grand Slam, and but for that tiebreak, it could have been Jennifer who could have gone to the final and won," Seles said.
Yesterday, Capriati fought back from a break down in each of the two sets, but both times she turned around and lost her serve again.
She also seemed unwilling to go to the net or try anything that might have made Seles, who says she is not in top physical shape, to move around the court.
Instead, Capriati played a defensive game, content to battle from the baseline.
"I was surprised by the way she lost her serve," said Seles, who broke Capriati at love to win the first set, and then, after a change of breaks in the second, broke her for a 5-3 lead and went on to serve out the set.
"It is so hard, just to get back and get used to everything," Seles said. "Both our serves were off today."
And then Seles said two more things. One, she said, Capriati is very close to being on a level with the elite players, "all she needs is consistency." And, two, the most important thing, from Seles' point of view: "Jennifer really seems happy. That's just great to see."
When Capriati came into her post-match news conference, she was smiling and carrying a piece of notebook paper. She said she had written this statement the week before the Open but had decided to wait until she was finished playing here to read it.
In the letter, Capriati said there is "much mystery, much question to what happened, and I must also say, many lies." She said she made mistakes "by rebelling, by acting out in confused ways" and said it was due to her young age and experiencing her adolescence.
"Let me say that the path I did take for a brief period of my life was not of reckless drug use, hurting others, but it was a path of quiet rebellion, of a little experimentation of a darker side of my confusion in a confusing world," she said.
She added she made mistakes and took the blame for those mistakes.
"I am sorry to my loved ones that I humiliated and embarrassed," she read. "And, I'm sorry to my fans who I feel I let down. I'm sorry to myself for causing such pain."
There followed a few questions about her match with Seles, and she admitted to having "nerves."
But then came the questions about her statement.
"Every time I read something about myself, I always read that little tidbit about the past," she said. "I just hope by doing this, it will sort of just end that chapter and I can start a new life."
But then, it seemed everything caught up with her. The statement she read had created more questions. She had been hoping for a feeling of relief, but the relief hadn't come.
When asked if she sees the media as her adversary, the facade of adulthood broke down.
"I'm going to start crying," she said, as the tears came. "It's nothing bad. It's just " and she laid her head on her arms and sobbed. "It's just a little overwhelming, that's all."
Andre Agassi (2) def. Arnaud Clement, 6-4, 6-4, 6-3; Nicolas Escude def. Marcelo Rios (10), 6-2, 6-3, 7-5.
Monica Seles (4) def. Jennifer Capriati, 6-4, 6-3; Mary Pierce (5) def. Sabine Appelmans, 6-3, 7-6 (8-6); Serena Williams (7) def. Conchita Martinez (16), 4-6, 6-2, 6-2.
Pub Date: 9/07/99