CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Reuters) – Captain Billie Jean King and her U.S. players have blamed their 2-0 deficit in the Fed Cup first round match against Austria on Jennifer Capriati’s dismissal from the team.
“Jennifer should have approached the rest of the team if she wanted some help with the situation but she didn’t,” U.S. team member Monica Seles told Reuters Saturday.
“She was the one causing all the disruption during the week. She didn’t leave us in a great situation and it was very unfair.”
Seles’s team mate Lisa Raymond told Reuters: “Jennifer never approached any of us. We certainly hoped the situation was salvageable. We thought everyone was on the same page and obviously we weren’t.”
The U.S. had to forfeit Capriati’s match against Evelyn Fauth before Seles lost 7-6 6-2 to Barbara Schwartz, which means the home team must win all three rubbers Sunday to defeat Austria.
King kicked Capriati off the team Friday after the world number two refused to cancel a private practice session with her father and coach, Stefano.
King said it was the toughest decision she ever had to make. The U.S. captain has known Jennifer and her family since the player was 12, but said there was no other way to deal with the situation.
“There was no way,” said King, who added that she had problems with Jennifer wanting to impose her independence and Stefano trying to assert his will.
“It was a combination of both,” King said. “But the fact is that I stated the rules Monday and they weren’t adhered to. It was more than once, it was a lot more than once. It wasn’t fair to the team.”
Raymond said the Capriati situation had disrupted the team all week. “It was constant, something every day, either Stefano was there every day or there was the notion that she wanted him to be there,” Raymond said.
“I am surprised at her. It’s something we didn’t expect to be an issue. Sometimes you just have to stand up for principles. If that means taking a loss or going down 2-0, then so be it.”
In a statement released through her agent, Linda Dozoretz, Friday, Capriati said that the rules were unfair.
“On my own time, following Friday morning’s practice session, I decided that I wanted additional practice in advance of Saturday’s match.
“In response to the team captain, I informed her that I had booked my own practice session with a hitting partner and my coach.
“I was informed that this was against the team rules, and that if I continued with this practice, I would be dismissed from the team. I strongly protested this directive, and consequently was dismissed from the team before this practice even took place.”
Capriati added: “I never did practice and do not believe I did anything to hurt the team. I obeyed the rules as I understood them, and fulfilled the obligations I had to the team.
“It is amazing to me that I am being penalized so severely for simply wanting to prepare as best I can for the Federation Cup and my other commitments.
“It never occurred to me that little-known policies that conflicted with my serious preparation for upcoming tour events would result in this ending.”
King disputed Capriati’s account, saying that she went up to her in the afternoon and asked Jennifer if she needed additional practice.
“We’ll do whatever it takes for a player,” King said. “I always ask the player and will oblige them…Jennifer was definitely going to practice with her father and a high school player here on a back court.”
Seles backed King, saying: “I felt the right decision was made. I have my coach here and understood the rules. The rules were explained to me and I obliged.
“We’re all here as a team and we need to focus on our tennis, not the distractions from off the court. It was just becoming too much.”
Raymond said: “I have a coach I would love to have here and Monica has her coach, Mike Sell, who she told that he couldn’t come to the courts and that we were having closed practices.
“It was pretty cut and dry and Jennifer should have respected the policy more. A rule is a rule and as a team we should have abided by it.”
Meghann Shaughnessy, who will replace Capriati in Sunday’s opening singles match, said: “We have team rules and Jennifer decided not to follow one of them. That’s the bottom line.”
Shaughnessy will be making her Fed Cup debut in her match against Schwartz. In Sunday’s other rubbers, Seles meets Fauth and Shaughnessy and Raymond team up to take on Schwartz and Marion Maruska in the doubles.
King admitted changing the rules this year because she wanted the players and the Fed Cup coaches to have private time to themselves in order to build team unity.
“This team has to be together,’ she said. “When we’re together, this is the deal.”