x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Fall of a tennis teen and rise of a tennis queen

Paul Oberjuerge explains the trajectory of Jennifer Capriati's career and how it eventually landed her in the International Tennis Hall of Fame.

Jennifer Capriati first rose to fame as a teen sensation and quickly burned out on tennis. She eventually returned to the game and rose to No 1, winning a gold medal at the Olympics along the way.
Jennifer Capriati first rose to fame as a teen sensation and quickly burned out on tennis. She eventually returned to the game and rose to No 1, winning a gold medal at the Olympics along the way.

Perhaps no elite player had a career as tumultuous as did Jennifer Capriati. On the cover of Sports Illustrated at 13, a French Open semi-finalist at 14, washed up at 18, a three-time slam winner at 25, out of the game at 28.

Five years ago she told the New York Daily News that she had thoughts of suicide, and two years ago she was rushed to a hospital in Florida after a drug overdose described as "accidental".

Now, at 36, she has been elected to the International Tennis Hall of Fame, which seems appropriate, because Capriati was as famous, or infamous, as anyone in tennis for most of two decades.

A woman who came to loathe the attention when she was a teenager welcomed the acclaim accorded her by the US-based Hall of Fame.

"Tennis has been my passion and dedication for my entire life, and to be acknowledged for this passion and dedication is truly icing on the cake," she said on Friday.

If Tracy Austin was the poster child for the physical risks faced by girls who played too much tennis too soon, Capriati was the avatar for those who crumbled under enormous expectations placed on child prodigies.

She had the power game to beat Martina Navratilova and Arantxa Sanchez Vicario at the age of 14, but her maturity understandably lagged some distance behind.

She had earned around US$20 million (Dh73.5m) and had won five WTA tournaments and the 1992 Olympic gold medal when she quit the game after the 1993 season. She was 17.

Marty Riessen, a US coach, told Sports Illustrated that Capriati was "really tired" of tennis. "Not just indifferent; she came to despise it."

She was arrested for shoplifting in 1993 and her nadir came in May 1994, when an overweight girl with a ring in her nose was arrested at a Coral Gables motel in Florida for possessing marijuana after what was characterised as a 36-hour party.

Capriati entered a drug rehabilitation facility for the second time.

More remarkable was her climb to the top of the game, which commenced in 1996.

She rose to No 1 for the first time in October 2001, the year when she won both the Australian and French opens. It perhaps helped that she was an adult of 25 by then.

She remained a top competitor through the 2004 season, but chronic injuries ended her career.

Capriati thanked her fans when the Hall of Fame announcement was made ("I miss you so much").

Her induction is set for July 14 and her remarks may give some insight into what sort of peace a great champion has been able to find since she left the game she entered, and left too soon.

 

poberjuerge@thenational.ae

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