Tennis Elbow: How young is too young?
July 16, 2012 · Print This Article
Welcome to Tennis Elbow, a new column that will look back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon examines the career of Jennifer Capriati, who just entered the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
Jennifer Capriati has spent her life either being on a tennis court, or missing the tennis court. She said as much, to a crowd present at the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, R. I., at her induction ceremony. Her smile has always been wonderful, but it took a while for us to see it this past weekend–she was emotional, and rightly so.
Sports are great for young children, because it keeps them active while also teaching them a little about competition and life in general. But more than that, sports are fun. That’s what they’re supposed to be, especially at a young age–children play hockey, baseball, or tennis, because they have fun.
There’s a certain kind of innocence to youth that’s both inspiring and beautiful. And it should be cherished, because it certainly can be fleeting.
In 1990, Jennifer Capriati made her professional debut on the WTA Tour. She was 13 years old and, rather than flame out, she was successful. But really, that’s selling Capriati short. In the first Grand Slam event of her young career, the 1990 French Open, the young American lost in the semifinals against eventual champion Monica Seles. In October of her rookie season, Capriati entered the WTA Tour top 10. She was nearing her fifteenth birthday.
From there, it would get better before it got worse for the native of New York. She would capture six titles before the 1993 season, none bigger than a gold medal at the Barcelona Olympics–do the math, she was 16 years old then. Capriati was young, but she was attacking on the tennis court thanks to a solid forehand and an aggressive mindset.
It was surreal, beautiful and inspiring all at once to see such a young teenager being so successful at such a young age. It didn’t last though–it’s fleeting, remember?
Her 1993 season seemed another good one as she reached the quarterfinals of the first three Grand Slams of the year as well as the final of the Rogers Cup in Montreal. But then she lost in the opening round of the US Open, and she lost it.
Capriati played one match in the whole 1994 season, a loss. It took her a while to get her mind back on tennis–for an 18-year-old who had been playing professional tennis since she was 13, what else was there? Capriati had spent her teenage years, the ones that are so vital to experimenting with different social roles and identities in order to find the ones that fit, playing tennis and doing little else.
The young American was without this sport, now, and she caught up on a lot of things that teenagers will do–things that have little to do with tennis. She apparently battled drug addiction and legal troubles, and probably much more than none of us have any idea about.
Truly, that’s the sad part–that such a young woman, that was so gifted and seemingly on her way to superstardom, could have been so overwhelmed that she threw it all away. Capriati’s tale is a cautionary one, because she did manage to reconcile herself with the sport that she loved and that loved her so much. Just because her story has a happy ending doesn’t make it any less touching.
Starting in 1996, Capriati had a few inconsistent seasons until 1999 when she reached the 4th round of the French Open and Wimbledon. By then, she was 21 years old. A semifinal loss to Lindsay Davenport at the 2000 Australian Open meant that she was back with the elite.
But Capriati didn’t fully arrive until the next year when she won the Australian Open–as a 12th-seed– and Roland Garros. In October of 2001, Capriati was the world’s Number 1. It’s what most had expected would happen, only it took her 11 years to do so.
And in July 2012, there’s Jennifer Capriati being sworn in the Professional Tennis Hall of Fame along with Brazil’s Gustavo Kuerten and a slew of other greats. Today, Capriati is 36 years old–still very much young.
by: Charles Blouin-Gascon