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Tom McEwen

The late Tom McEwen, sports editor of The Tampa Times from 1958-62 before being named sports editor of The Tampa Tribune in 1962, graced the Tribune sports section with his award-winning column, The Morning After, and his Breakfast Bonus notes columns were a signature offering from the 19-time Florida Sports Writer of the Year. McEwen died in June, 2011 at the age of 88. His wife, Linda, occasionally contributes past columns and exerpts to this blog.

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Capriati gives exalted guests a royal flush

Posted Jun 15, 2012 by

Updated Jun 16, 2012 at 12:10 AM

Seeing the very attractive Jennifer Capriati at the Sneaker Soiree event a few days ago, and also watching the exciting French Open this year, and now with the 2012 Olympics coming up in London very soon, I remembered this article about Jennifer in the Barcelona Olympics, when Tom covered the event in 1992 and her gold medal performance in tennis.

She was not the favorite, but she won against the Spanish royal favorite with the two American flags sewn into the front of her skirt, a 16-year-old girl. It was an exciting time, never forgotten by Tom and Jennifer’s family and friends at Saddlebrook near Tampa, where she lived and trained.

- Linda


Capriati Gives Exalted Guests A Royal Flush

August 6, 1992

BARCELONA, Spain - Even royal intervention, and interruption, could not save a special Spanish subject from her conquest by a princess of American tennis.
Despite the mid-match arrival of King Juan Carlos, Queen Sofia and their three children at center court to lend support to Spain’s best women’s tennis player, 16-year-old Jennifer Capriati, with two American flags sewn onto the front of her skirt, recovered from a slight slide to banish Arantxa Sanchez Vicario from Olympics singles competition 6-3, 3-6, 6-1.

Capriati played brilliantly and resolutely, failing to yield to the circumstances that favored Sanchez Vicario.

Capriati, a Tampa Saddlebrook resident, is assured of at least a Silver Medal. She will win the Gold if she can upset Steffi Graf of Germany on Friday. Graf discharged the other American semifinalist, Mary Jo Fernandez of Miami, 6-4, 6-2 earlier Wednesday. Fernandez and Sanchez Vicario each win a Bronze Medal. Graf was powerful and stylish in eliminating Fernandez at center court, then gave way to the high drama that would follow for nearly three hours in temperatures that reached 98 degrees.

A bronze medal is nice but ...

Sanchez Vicario, the No. 2 seed, is a former French Open champion.

She is far more experienced than Capriati. She figured to win under normal circumstances.  But on this hot Spanish afternoon, on the slow, red clay surface on which Sanchez Vicario grew up, and before the overwhelming Spanish audience that revered her, not to mention the unexpected presence of the king and queen, Capriati was given a chance by few. Capriati had won a Bronze Medal by making it to the semifinals, but she had to be told that, after beating Anke Huber of Germany two days ago in the quarterfinals.

Told she had won the Bronze, she said, “Of course, I am happy. That’s what I am here for. But why settle for a Bronze?”

Maybe it is her youth that disallowed feeling pressure at center court against Spain’s best in Barcelona. Maybe it was the training she had done in recent weeks.

But, she was not only playing more experience, the crowd, the surface and the heat, she also was playing a retriever. Sanchez Vicario is a classic baseline player. She is content to return, return, return, to wait, to induce impatience and errors. Some thought Capriati, who plays fast and hard, wouldn’t be able to handle the game of Sanchez Vicario.

Capriati partisans were outnumbered in the big arena plenty to one.

The Spanish enjoy staccato clapping and chanting their favorite’s name, and they did that throughout the match.

What’s all the commotion?

Capriati won the game’s first point en route to winning the first game. She seemed in form. She certainly seemed fit.

Capriati broke Sanchez Vicario’s serve in the second game, led 5-1, lost two games with a stretch of errors, but still won the first set 6-3. The crowd was clearly nervous.

The second set moved to 2-2 with Sanchez Vicario serving. Capriati pounced on the Spaniard and led in the game love-40. Put-away time. She could win in straight sets.
Not quite.

Capriati grew careless. She lost five consecutive points and the fans came alive. Their heroine was leading 3-2 and coming back, like a heroine should.

At that moment, there was a commotion in the south stands where the royal box is located. Capriati was ready to serve. But the crowd rose and applauded. On the court, Sanchez Vicario turned and saluted the royal box.

At the best possible time for their subject, and surely the worst possible time for Capriati, five pretty powerful Sanchez Vicario supporters had arrived.

Capriati stared at the arrivals and waited to serve, in a game that included 12 points. That was special, but there were many games even longer in this wonderful match Olympics tennis showdown.

Capriati lost the game to go down 4-2. The royal magic had worked and continued to work, for their tennis countess won the set 6-3.

It was difficult to tell if Capriati was nervous. Hard to know if the presence of a Spanish king and queen was a distraction. Hard to know if the resolve and retrieving and moon shots of Sanchez Vicario were affecting her.

The third set began. The crowd clearly felt the momentum had changed mightily for Spain. There were some cries for Capriati to “go,” and “come on,”
and a few scattered “U-S-A, U-S-A, U-S-A,” but it certainly looked like hometown, age, patience and conditions were going against her. Royally, against her,  Capriati was serving first in the third set.

She won the first game at love. She broke Sanchez Vicario’s serve quickly, kept her own to lead 3-0 and clinched the match in the fourth game with Sanchez Vicario serving. Arantxa led 30-love, but Capriati took it to break point three times before winning it on the third break with a brilliant cross-court slam. It was 4-0. Less than 15 minutes later it was 6-1, after the Spaniard managed to hold one serve.

It was Princes Jennifer of Florida and not Countess Arantxa of Spain who ruled this day in the Olympics.

Did the crowd bother Princess Jennifer?

“No. When they started to clap or chant, I talked to myself,”

Capriati said.

Did she feel the match slipping away?

“No, I felt like I gave her the second set. I do not feel like she really won it. But, I did let it get away from me.”

Did the arrival of the king and queen of Spain worry her in any way?
“I didn’t know who they were. I wondered why, whoever they were, didn’t wait to come in at the changeover,” Capriati said, laughing. “I didn’t know it was the king and queen until our trainer told me.”     

And even then it clearly didn’t bother this American princess.

Ah, to be 16.

And to be an Olympic Gold Medal winner.


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