Just this past Friday, Jennifer Capriati was elected to be inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame. Obviously getting inducted to any hall of fame is a huge deal for anyone involved in any sport/activity. However, for Jennifer, someone who has held a plethora of successes yet dealt with an inordinate amount of troubling life experiences, being inducted is going to be an accomplishment she is guaranteed to have trouble putting into words. For this week’s blog I am going to delve into Jennifer’s tennis history and what earned her the above honor. However, I will warn/apologize that this post is going to be a little longer than usual (sorry professor), but hopefully for good reasons, so strap in!
At first I was kind of surprised to hear Jennifer was being inducted, because as an ignorant, young, millennium generation brat, I was unfamiliar with her true accomplishments as a player and as a person and judged her solely on what little I had seen of her when I was younger. Jennifer turned pro in 1990 when she was merely 13 years old, shocking everyone by making it to the semifinals of the French Open that same year! And the following year, she stampeded into the top 10 in the world, making her the youngest player to accomplish such a feat. Over the next three years she managed to claim six singles titles, including a Gold Medal at the Barcelona Olympics of 1992. Basically, she had accomplished more than most of us will in our entire lives by an age where guys are just beginning to gain the notion that there is nothing more to life than girls.
Unfortunately, the star-stricken teenager cracked under the pressure of being a professional athlete at such a young age when, in 1993, she lost in the first round of the US Open and took a 14 month hiatus that led to addictions and depression. During this time she was “arrest[ed] for shoplifting and possession of marijuana”.
**Sorry, that was not very descriptive. I just find it comical that the quote I provided above is all Wikipedia has to say about Jennifer’s break from professional tennis – that she was arrested for shoplifting a $15 bracelet and possession of marijuana. Marijuana. Hmm, well at this point I realized Wikipedia was probably going soft on me, considering a kid I knew through competitive tennis in high school – NOT the same as high school tennis – once told me that if I named any junior tennis player we both knew, he could confirm that they were smoking “pot” regularly.**
Jennifer was a little bit more unique than your standard troubled teen in high school. At the age of 17, she ended up drinking heavily and experimenting with multiple drugs, hitting rock bottom very hard, and very quickly. However, this dip into the darker side of life is exactly what showed people how incredible she really is.
In 1996, after a year of recovery, Jennifer finally returned to what she did best. It took her a few years to make an impact in any of the major tournaments, but finally, in 2001, she threw the world into a mad craze during the Australian Open when she beat out the defending champ, Lindsay Davenport, in the semifinals and swiftly defeated Martina Hingis (#1 player in the world at the time) to claim her first Grand Slam, and more importantly her first title since her destructive hiatus in 1993. She continued to prove her role as the comeback kid as she won the French Open that same year and defended her Australian Open title the following year. After reigning as #1 in the world for 18 weeks, Jennifer remained a brutal force in the Women’s Tour until 2004, holding onto a spot in the top 10 in the world until injuries beyond the scope of surgery forced her into early retirement.
I hope it is clear to any of you who were in the same position I was in, that Jennifer Capriati, with her phenomenally early start in professional tennis, 14 singles titles and 430-176 professional record, more than deserves her induction into the International Tennis Hall of Fame. Some may not like Jennifer for ever falling to drugs and alcohol, but as Andrea Jaeger, another former teenage star, was quoted saying, “Success insulates you from what’s normal. You don’t learn skills to cope with ordinary situations.” Granted this is not a perfectly acceptable excuse, since otherwise you might as well consider Tiger Woods a saint, but the fact that she fought so hard to achieve her comeback proves that she is greater than the influences she once succumbed to . Not to mention, it is documented that Jennifer was a prodigy of an athlete growing up, capable of swimming before she could crawl, climbing monkey bars before she could walk, and learning how to actually play tennis before she reached kindergarten!
As far as I am concerned, knowing the amount of heart, talent, willpower, and incredible natural athleticism she displayed throughout her career, Jennifer has gone from being just another professional athlete in my books to becoming an inspirational figure. Congratulations Ms. Capriati on all of your successes.
*Pictures coming soon!
Besides Wikipedia lightly, I also used biography.com’s write up on Jennifer as well as Yahoo’s article on her election.