This year marks the 50th anniversary of TENNIS Magazine's founding in 1965. To commemorate the occasion, we'll look back each Thursday at one of the 50 moments that have defined the last half-century in our sport.
“If you believe, dreams do come true,” Jennifer Capriati told the crowd in Rod Laver Arena as she accepted the winner’s trophy at the 2001 Australian Open. It was a fitting and inspiring sentiment, even if Jennifer went on to contradict it a few seconds later.
“I can’t believe this is happening,” an overwhelmed Capriati admitted.
She wasn’t alone. Capriati had been many things in her 24 years, but most U.S. tennis fans had given up hope that “Grand Slam champion” would ever be among them. Even the normally staid New York Times described her win in Melbourne as “an unimaginable performance.”
But the turn of the century was a time of atonement and redemption for U.S. tennis prodigies. In 1999, Andre Agassi put the memories of his squandered opportunities in Paris behind him when he came out of nowhere to win the French Open and complete a career Grand Slam. Capriati watched her countryman at Roland Garros and was inspired to turn her own, long-stalled, career around.
Like Agassi, at the start of the '90s Capriati had been a much-hyped, sure-shot prodigy, a toothy, giggling slugger from Florida who was going to be the next savior of American tennis. She reached the final of her first professional tournament at 13, reached the semifinals at the French Open that spring, and quickly reached the Top 10. She was the “youngest ever” to do just about everything in the women’s game. That included, it seems likely, having her own video game; Sega Genesis created “Jennifer Capriati Tennis” in 1992. At first, Capriati lived up to her considerable hype. At age 16, she upset Steffi Graf to win the gold medal at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona.