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Harkleroad, 17, Is Given a Lesson

July 31, 2002|BILL DWYRE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

CARLSBAD — Jennifer Capriati and several thousand fans at the Acura Classic got a look at the possible future of American women's tennis Tuesday.

Granted, it wasn't a long look. Young Ashley Harkleroad, 17, was dispatched by the veteran Capriati, seeded second in this event and ranked No. 3 in the world, in a 53-minute instructional session, 6-0, 6-3.

Harkleroad grew up in the South, lives in Miami and turned pro two years and about $60,000 in prize money ago. Tournament organizers obviously thought she would have an appeal, and she repaid the wild-card entry they gave her, despite her low ranking of No. 228, by posting a first-round upset Monday over Italian veteran Rita Grande.

For Capriati, of course, Harkleroad was just so much cannon fodder, and even Harkleroad's 3-1, 40-15 lead in the second set was dismissed afterward by Capriati as a temporary lapse in concentration.

But the similarity in the two players' games, minus the veteran savvy on big points that Harkleroad has yet to acquire, was striking. Harkleroad banged from the baseline with great pace, moved with smooth quickness and created nice angles off her two-handed backhand. A 17-year-old Capriati did that too, only much better, even back then.

Harkleroad may never get to Capriati's level, which has brought her to the No. 1 ranking in the world several times and three Grand Slam event titles. But she certainly got a look Tuesday at what it takes.

"She started out hitting so hard, hitting winners from all over the court," Harkleroad said. "I practiced with her a couple of times at Saddlebrook [in Florida], but she missed a lot more in practice than she did today."

Harkleroad said she didn't feel as if she choked when she got her second-set lead.

"I didn't play bad points there," she said. "She just brought her game up a level, which is what you do when you are her."

In the match, Capriati had 30 winners, Harkleroad five.

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Capriati was part of an emotional ceremony on center court after her match.

Tournament officials here, having given recovering cancer patient Corina Morariu a wild-card entry into this event for a doubles match Monday that marked her first tour appearance in 14 months, created the inaugural Acura Classic Comeback Award and presented it to Morariu.

Making the presentation, along with tournament director Jane Stratton, was Capriati, who held up a sign after her 2001 French Open win that wished Morariu a return to good health.

Capriati, who was off the tour for parts of five years in the mid-1990s after struggling with behavior problems and getting in trouble for shoplifting and drugs, told Morariu that this award was coming "from one comeback person to another."

Capriati also said, "What you've done is far more difficult than what I did."

Morariu, saying she was responding by "speaking through my tears," said that she remained overwhelmed by the support she has received from both fellow players and the fans.

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Three of the top players in the tournament will finally take to the courts today, with top-seeded Venus Williams in the night match and No. 3 Lindsay Davenport and No. 5 Kim Clijsters playing in day sessions.

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An attendance of about 400 is expected here Thursday night for the annual Silver Lining Ranch dinner, a fund-raiser for Andrea Jaeger's children's cancer charity program. Last year's Acura-backed event raised $205,000.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

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