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Jennifer Capriati: Troubled Tennis Prodigy

Published on 06. 27. 2015

Capriati is a gifted athlete who chased runaway tennis balls

For tennis great Jennifer Capriati, it seems that nearly every win is overshadowed with personal pain and drama. Capriati is a gifted athlete who chased runaway tennis balls for her father as a toddler and was immersed in tennis lessons before she entered kindergarten. She piqued the attention of the tennis world with her first professional victory when she was only 13. Capriati was the youngest player named to the Women’s Tennis Association’s Top Ten and the youngest to ever win the French Open junior title. The tennis sensation continued to amass major wins with a final total (thus far) of 15. 

Jennifer Capriati

The pressure cooker environment of the tennis world began to show and became apparent when Capriati rebelled and announced that she was taking a break after a first-round loss at 1993’s U.S. Open. She was arrested for shoplifting in 1993. A few months later, in 1994, she was charged with possession of marijuana. She was not convicted of either charge, but the event triggered rumors that Capriati had been using drugs for at least a year, including harder drugs such as cocaine and heroin. 

In September of that year, Capriati entered a 28-day stint at a Florida treatment center. 

 

The Slow Return to Glory

Capriati returned to the tour in 1996, and although she enjoyed occasional wins and glimmers of her previous glory, she didn’t gain much traction until she got serious in 1999. She apologized for her behavior and asked the media to focus on the present, not the youthful mistakes of her past. Her slow comeback accelerated and she returned to top ten status in 2001. After several impressive wins, she was ranked the world’s number one tennis player. 

 

Injuries, Burnout and Depression

Unfortunately, success was short-lived and Capriati was plagued by a series of injuries and surgeries. She retired after the 2004 season, when she was in her early 30s. She disappeared from constant media scrutiny until news reports surfaced that she was in a Florida hospital, recovering from a prescription drug overdose that her parents called “accidental.” The incident triggered an outpouring of understanding and support from fans and friends around the world, who understood the rigors of early fame compounded with injuries and personal problems. Capriati made no secret of her struggles with depression, burnout, overeating and lack of purpose that followed her retirement. 

Capriati was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2012, but trouble soon followed. In 2013, Capriati was charged with stalking and misdemeanor battery charges after she reportedly assaulted a former boyfriend after stalking him for several months. Capriati completed court-mandated community service and anger management counseling, and the charges were dropped. 

 

A Possible Comeback

Capriati, who was deeply impacted by the death of her father in 2015, has hinted at a possible comeback.

 

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