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Let's suspend judgment on Capriati's sophomore year

Jennifer Capriati had to know this was going to happen. After her remarkable rookie season, she had to expect that if her sophomore year wasn't as good or better, critics wouldn't let it go unnoticed. They haven't.

After Capriati's round-of-16 loss to Conchita Martinez at the French Open last week, there were questions about Capriati's game and a lot of ink devoted to her losses this year. Many termed her loss to Martinez an "early exit" despite the fact that Martinez was seeded seventh while Capriati was 10th.

As Capriati said, "It's not the end of the world."

Before anyone starts questioning whether Capriati is as remarkable a talent as everyone predicted a year ago, consider her performance this season isn't all that different.

It's true, Capriati's ranking has slipped from eighth last year to 12th, that she hasn't defeated a top 10-ranked player this year after knocking off two (Mary Joe Fernandez and Arantxa Sanchez Vicario) by this point last year.

But is that any reason to say Capriati is struggling or that she's not the player she was last year? Hardly.

The truth is, Capriati's numbers are only slightly down from a year ago. Her year-to-date prize money is about $35,000 less and her won-loss record (15-7) shows only two more losses than at this point last year (21-5).

But who really expected Capriati to duplicate her rookie season? Almost every player experiences some sort of sophomore jinx their second year. Should Capriati be any different?

Even by Monica Seles' standards _ which are extraordinary considering she's No.

1 in the world at age 17 _ Capriati is not far off. Seles was 16 when she first cracked the top 5. That means Capriati still has two more years.

This is not to say that Capriati has nothing left to prove. It's just that after only 15 months of tennis, now is not the time to poll the jury.

Why me?: Sanchez has had only one kind of luck lately: bad. She has reached the semifinals or better in all eight of her tournaments this year, but has yet to win.

Sanchez has lost three semifinals in three-setters and one final _ the Lufthansa Cup to Steffi Graf _ that lasted more than two and a half hours. Then, Saturday, in her bid to become a two-time French Open champ, she was turned away by Seles 6-3, 6-4 after leading 4-1 in the second set.

The bright side is that her consistency this year has inched her from seventh to fifth in the world rankings.

Speaking of rankings: Better keep a sharp eye out for Ginger Helgeson of San Diego. A year ago, she was ranked 235th in the world. She still isn't listed anywhere in the current Women's Tennis Association media guide. But with wins over Helena Sukova and quarterfinal showings at the Lipton International Players Championships, the Virginia Slims of Palm Springs and the German Open, Helgeson has vaulted to No. 61.

Not necessarily news: Here's the latest from the tabloids on two tennis pros. First, the Confidential Reporter recently ran a story with a headline that read: "Tennis Pro Andre Agassi Going Blind." The story alleges that America's tennis heartthrob can no longer see the ball and refuses to wear glasses. Agassi is even quoted as saying: "I'm sorry to let my fans down. I didn't want to say anything until the final diagnosis was in, and now I have it. My eye doctor says I must quit tennis because I'm going blind."

And there's this from the June 11 National Enquirer: "Chris Evert In Danger Of Losing Her Unborn Baby." The story even quotes doctors.

If you think that's bad, just wait until the tabloids get a hold of Martina Navratilova's break up with her live-in companion, Judy Nelson. Some people, it seems, will write anything to make a buck.

Man of two countries: University of South Florida senior Arne Raabe has changed his American affiliation for the moment and picked up his native flag of Norway. Raabe, who is one of USF's top players, is competing in Oslo this weekend in Norway's Davis Cup match against Greece. Raabe likely will play doubles and possibly singles.

Wonder how he would handle it if Norway ends up facing the United States Davis Cup team this year.

THEN AND NOW

A look at Jennifer Capriati's record this year compared with last year at this point.

1990 1991

Ranking 8 12

Prize money $162,620 $127,652

Record 21-5 15-7

Top 10 wins 2 0

Losses: 1990 _ Gabriela Sabatini twice (ranked third), Nathalie Herreman (118th), Martina Navratilova (fourth) and Monica Seles (first). 1991 _ Helena Sukova (13th), Sabatini twice (third), Seles (first), Leila Meskhi (15th), Arantxa Sanchez Vicario (fifth) and Conchita Martinez (eighth).

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