Women's tennis star Jennifer Marie Capriati was born on March 29, 1976 in New York to Stefano and Denise Capriati. The 5' 8½", 135 lb athlete was introduced to tennis at age 3, and turned pro at age 13 (on March 5, 1990).

Always touted as a star in the making for American women's tennis, high hopes rode on Capriati. The same year, she reached the semifinals of the French Open, and the fourth round (pre-quarterfinals) of both Wimbledon and the US Open (she did not compete in the fourth Grand Slam event, the Australian Open). Capriati became the youngest person to reach a Grand Slam semifinal at the age of 14. Everyone was looking forward to her next year. This time, she reached the semifinals of both Wimbledon and the US Open. Later in 1992, Capriati went on to upset defending champion Steffi Graf to win the gold medal at the Barcelona Olympics.

At this time, there were two major teenage stars in women's tennis - Jennifer Capriati and Monica Seles. Both girls were much talked-about, but real life took the front seat. Seles was stabbed by a fan; Capriati got lost in growing up and the increasing pressures she faced. Jennifer gained weight, began to skip practices, smoked pot, and even shoplifted once. After more encounters with the law, Jennifer stopped playing professional tennis in 1994, at the age of 17. While Seles was regarded as a "victim" and her lack of success was attributed to her trauma, the tennis world could find no one to blame for Capriati's fall, except Capriati herself.

Jennifer returned to ATP play in 1996, 2 years later. She was out of practice and did not play many tournaments in the next 3 years. In the ones she DID play, she fared rather badly, losing in the first or second rounds of all the Grand Slam events. Despite increasing media pressure, Capriati decided to continue. She reached the semifinals of the Australian Open in 2000. When she arrived at Flushing Meadows for the US Open, the her native New York media was already asking questions about her past. In a much-publicized press conference following her fourth-round loss to Monica Seles, Capriati discussed her drug addiction and her desire to leave the past behind. The reporters, for the most part, did not listen.

Regardless, 2001 has been a banner year for Capriati so far. She won the first two Grand Slam events and ended up in the semifinals of the other two. In addition, she also won the Family Circle Cup. The rebound has taken many by surprise and it shall be certainly interesting to see how Jennifer performs in the coming years.

Grand Slam Tournament Summaries

Tournament Career 01 00 99 98 97 96 95 94 93 92 91 90
Australian  21-5   W SF  2  -  1  -  -  - QF QF  -  -
French      26-7   W  1  4  -  -  1  -  - QF QF  4 SF
Wimbledon   26-8  SF  4  2  2  -  -  -  - QF QF SF  4
U.S. Open  21-10  SF  4  4  1  1  1  -  -  1  3 SF  4

STATS SOURCES: http://www.sportsstarpages.com/jennifer_capriati/career.htm and http://sports.yahoo.com/ten/news/capriati01.html

Capriati's recent success is especially surprising for a few reasons. Women's tennis has increasingly become dominated by younger and younger players (Venus Williams and Martina Hingis, among others). In fact, Hingis's career seems to be already in decline...and she's not even 21 years old. Capriati is currently 25, and considering her long time away from tennis, she might as well be older than that.

In addition, she's not tall or very powerfully built in comparison to world-class players Venus Williams and Lindsay Davenport.

Her ability to make up for both of these disadvantages is due to Capriati being in TREMENDOUS physical shape. She's trained very very hard and is in the best shape of her life. As a result, Capriati's been able to keep up with heavy hitters like The Williams Sisters, but also be able to run down balls all over the court. This combination, along with a strong desire to vindicate herself professionally, has led Capriati to becoming the number 2 player in the world (as of August 26, 2001 WTA rankings).

The comparison of Capriati to Monica Seles in the excellent writeup above is especially noteworthy. By the time Seles was stabbed in Germany in 1993, she had already won 8 Grand Slam singles tournaments (to Capriati's 0). Capriati was a bit more than 2 years younger than Seles, but was still often compared to Monica. As time went on, Capriati didn't win any Grand Slam events and pressure mounted. To be fair though, during this time period, Grand Slam tournaments were dominated by only two women. From the 1991 Australian Open through the 1994 Australian Open, either Seles or Steffi Graf won EVERY Grand Slam event...a span of 13 tournaments. That Capriati's teen years coincided with the career peaks of 2 of the greatest women's tennis players in history didn't matter much to the media. The media pressure, as well as a sense of failure, helped lead to Capriati's fall from grace.

On a personal note, Capriati in a way represents many of us who were teens in the early '90s. There was always a sense of "the world will be ours" and expectations which often weren't fulfilled. After college or a few years working, we're forced to discover we're not young anymore, and our potential can't carry us anymore. This leads to being forced to reexamine ourselves, and reinvent ourselves to try to be successful. As such, Capriati's success is a nice (albeit shallow, perhaps) motivator, and why I root for her a bit harder than I would otherwise. Because in her, I see me (yes, sappy, I know...).

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