If you were a newbie following women’s tennis when Jennifer Capriati won the Australian and French Opens in 2001, and followed those up with the Australian Open again the following year, you would not have been surprised to see her at the pinnacle of women’s tennis, holding the No. 1 ranking.
But as avid followers of the game can testify, there is a very interesting and heart-warming story behind Capriati’s success.
Capriati was a prodigy—a teen prodigy no less—and made her professional debut on March 5, 1990, three weeks before her 14th birthday.
Success quickly followed!
She reached the final of her debut tournament at Boca Raton, Fla. losing to Gabriela Sabatini in the final.
She reached the finals of her next tournament as well, losing to none other than, in her own words "the lege", Martina Navratilova.
Through 1990-91, she reached the semifinals of the French Open, Wimbledon, and the US Open. She capped it all with a stupendous run at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, winning gold for the US in the women’s singles.
But the pressures of living up to expectations started to take its toll.
Capriati seemed lost to tennis when she took a break from competitive play late in 1993. She seemed to have followed Tracy Austin into oblivion, but for entirely different reasons.
Austin succumbed to various injuries, but the young, impressionable, and naive Capriati appeared to have lost the battle with the demons in her mind, with shoplifting and marijuana possession among her recorded misdemeanors.
She was labeled another one of those burnt-out child prodigies. The debate about teen-aged prodigies raged!
However, Capriati did return to competitive tennis in 1996,but did not win a tournament until May, 1999. It was start-stop-stutter all the way.
She finally broke through in 2001, winning the Australian Open and the French Open that year. She won her last Grand Slam title in 2002, successfully defending her Australian Open title.
Capriati was the great big hope of US women’s tennis after Navratilova and Chris Evert, and though she did not completely fulfill her destiny, she is still an inspiration for those who believe that it is never too late to turn over a new leaf.
Her legacy may have been buried by the likes of the Williams sisters and Lindsay Davenport, but dig deep and you will encounter a true heroine, both on the court and off it.
Have a great day!