What could be more incompatible with the athletic ideal than the slacker nihilism of grunge? Something in the moping lyrics of Nirvana, in the brutal rap of Ice Cube, struck a chord with Capriati, and her old tennis acquaintances just didn't get it. "They don't know who Jen is," says one of Capriati's recent roommates, Kevin Spencer, a tennis instructor at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton. "They don't hang out with her. They don't listen to Ice Cube."
Still, in the first week of April, Capriati began taking tentative steps toward resuming her career. After again moving out of her parents' home in Saddlebrook, she took up residence in an apartment across the state in Boca Raton with her oldest friend, Missy Nye, who was attending Florida Atlantic. When the two found the apartment to be too small, Capriati moved to another place with three male friends, including Spencer and Nye's then boyfriend. She scheduled a meeting with her agent, Barbara Perry, to discuss playing some events. Perry says Capriati sounded interested in the game for the first time in months. Capriati called Evert for a chat. And she began hitting with Spencer four or five times a week at a public park in Boca Raton. "Practices were getting longer and more intense," Spencer says. "The way she was drilling the ball, I went through 24 sets of strings. She was getting hungry and wanted to come back."
Nye says many in Capriati's circle worked to focus her on tennis again. "One friend was hitting with her," Nye says, referring to Spencer. "One friend was lifting with her. I was running with her. We wanted to provide a good atmosphere for her." But Capriati was being pulled in another direction. Nye says differences arose between them: "We weren't on the best of terms. In a way there was something not really right with her relationships with people. She wasn't the same person."
On Friday, May 13, Capriati showed up at a party at Lucy's parents' house in South Miami. According to Black and Wilson, friends of Lucy's who were at the party, Capriati knew both Lucy and Branagan from The Manors. Lucy introduced Black to Capriati that night, but he never made the connection between "Jen" and the tennis star. Wilson says that he had known Capriati from recent parties and that she was friendly with many in the crowd from previous visits to the Miami area. "She came down two or three times before this," he says. "She came down three weeks ago, and we stayed in a hotel on the beach—me, Jennifer and Lucy. She has a bank card, and she'd lend it to me sometimes and ask me to get stuff."
Last Saturday, Black's birthday, he went back to visit Lucy and Capriati at Lucy's parents' house, and the three resumed partying. But, Black says, Lucy's parents came home and promptly grounded their daughter. Capriati and Black moved on.
"Jennifer said, 'It's your birthday, and we can party your birthday in a hotel,' " Black says. "I'm not going to say no. Would you say no?" They checked into room 109 at the Gables Inn at 1:23 a.m. Sunday. The room was $50 a night; Capriati registered with her Visa card. The motel lies just 1¼ miles from a five-block stretch of Grand Avenue that is the heart of Miami's Coconut Grove drug market. Black says that he and Capriati talked till dawn. At about 11 that morning Lucy met them at Denny's and revealed Capriati's identity to him. At that point, Black says, she told him why she had tired of the game.
"She explained it to me: She loves tennis; the happiest moments of her life are when she's playing," Black says. "But as soon as it got to be 'Number 1, Number 1, Number 1,' it was too stressful. They were running her life. Her dad. Her coaches. She didn't make money just for herself. A lot of people were depending on her."
A lot of people depended on her that Sunday night, too. After word got out that there was a party at the Gables Inn, as many as 20 people shuffled in and out of room 109. Black, Branagan and Wilson were all there. So was Wineland, a friend of Wilson's who had been in town for a couple of weeks. Wineland, who had been convicted of a drug charge in Connecticut and was on probation, had so alienated Wilson's mother, Susan, that she had kicked him out of her house a few days before—and Wilson had left with him.
There are conflicting accounts of what happened at the Gables Inn that Sunday night. Wilson says he saw Capriati use crack and heroin. "I did see her smoking crack, and I did see her snort heroin," says Wilson, who told SI that he has been treated for drug addiction. "She did it two times in the hotel. I think she was just experimenting with it. But crack? It seems every time I saw her, she just wanted it. It was crazy. We must've spent at least $1,000 the whole weekend. Like every hour, she'd send me back for $200. Coke goes quick, you know?"
Wineland's account is much the same as Wilson's—although to many, Wineland squandered his credibility by appearing shirtless in court on May 17 and peddling his story to American Journal, a tabloid TV show. The Wineland account of Capriati's drug use has also varied: Last Wednesday his lawyer told the Associated Press that Capriati was "whacked out on heroin." But two days earlier Wineland had told SI by telephone from the Metro-Dade jail that he used crack with Capriati but not heroin. Wineland added, however, that Capriati paid for heroin and crack that were purchased that morning.