Tennis: Doctors to discuss teenage prodigies

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The Independent Online
WITH fears growing that tennis may have seen the last of Jennifer Capriati, a panel of medical experts has been assembled to address the question of teenage prodigies in the women's game, writes John Roberts from Melbourne.

The disaffected Capriati has decided to extend her break from the sport until she finishes school in the summer. The 17-year-old American, who made her professional debut two weeks before her 14th birthday, has not played since losing to the Georgian, Leila Meskhi, in the first round of the United States Open in September last year.

It is rumoured that Capriati's absence from the sport could jeopardise long-term commercial contracts estimated to be worth between dollars 8m (pounds 5.5m) and dollars 10m.

In view of the difficulties the Olympic champion has experienced, including a police caution for leaving a jewellery shop in Florida wearing a ring for which she had not paid, it has been suggested that the minimum age for joining the tour be raised from 14 to 16, as was the case until 1975.

The situation will be studied by an age-eligibility committee comprising a psychologist, a nutritionist, an orthopaedic surgeon, a paediatric specialist, an expert in growth patterns, a women's health consultant, and representatives of the Women's Tennis Association and the International Tennis Federation.

Four meetings are scheduled to examine physical, psychological and ethical questions, and a report will be submitted to the Women's Tennis Council in August. The Council will seek legal advice before taking a decision later in the year, which will come into effect in 1995.

Pam Shriver, who as a 16- year-old was the runner-up to Chris Evert at the 1978 US Open, is involved in the review as president of the Women's Tennis Association.

'I am personally very torn,' the 31-year-old Shriver said yesterday. 'I feel that, no matter what, you are going to have players that just can't last. But if it happens too often we have to have a look at the rule, and so that is what's happening.

'With the demands on the top players, people need to go in with their eyes open. Not only the players, but the parents, the agents and the coaches, need to understand the pressures that are out there. I think we need to look at the entire process. We need to look at whether or not we need to do a better job in educating people who are brand new to this life.

'There were times when I was very close to saying, 'I can't handle this pressure'. I was able to cope with it and get through it, because I think the right people were around me, but there were some difficult times.'