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TBT, 1992: Jennifer Capriati edges fellow teen Monica Seles in Miami
While still just teenagers, these two fierce competitors were laying down the groundwork for a first-rate, enduring rivalry.
Published Mar 18, 2021
While still just teenagers, Monica Seles and Jennifer Capriati were laying down the groundwork for a first-rate, enduring rivalry—potentially even on the order of the 80-match epic pitting Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova.
On this day in 1992, as the two walked out to play one another in the quarterfinals of what was then called the Lipton International Players Championships (now the Miami Open), they had already played one another five times. Seles was 18 years old, Capriati 15.
Though Seles led the rivalry 4-1, these were exceptionally competitive matches. Seles versus Capriati featured ferocious displays of power baseline tennis, neither giving ground through one rigorous rally after another.
In the summer of 1991, two of their matches had gone right to the limit, Capriati winning a third-set tiebreaker in the finals of San Diego, Seles returning the favor the next month in a dazzling US Open semifinal.
Seles at this time was clearly the world’s best player. In 1991, she won all three Slams she entered—the Australian Open, Roland-Garros, the US Open. Prior to playing Capriati, Seles had reached a staggering 21 consecutive finals and gone 19-0 in ’92, winning three titles on three continents.
Capriati was ranked sixth in the world and hadn’t played a tournament since February. One round prior to playing Seles, she’d worked hard to beat fellow American Zina Garrison, winning that match, 5-7, 6-4, 6-3.
Capriati started off much better against Seles, quickly snapping up the first set, 6-2. Per usual, Seles countered strongly, taking a 5-3 lead in the second. But, serving for the set, Seles double-faulted two straight times and was broken at love. Seles also led 5-4 in the tiebreaker, only to misfire on two consecutive forehands and then, down match point, serve yet another double-fault, Capriati winning the match, 6-2, 7-6 (5).
“Today the shots were not there,” said Seles. “I was not making the shots I usually do, and she was a lot better from the baseline than I was.”
“That’s what I was aiming for,” said Capriati. “I was expecting her at any time to go off and get on a roll, and she really didn’t.”
Capriati lost in the semis to eventual champion Arantxa Sanchez Vicario.
The next time Seles and Capriati played one another was in the quarterfinals of Roland Garros later that same year. Seles won easily, 6-2, 6-2. There remained high hopes for this rivalry, particularly when Capriati that summer won the Olympic gold medal with an impressive victory over Stefanie Graf in the final. With Seles winning the US Open—her second straight three-Slam year—the future looked bright for each.
But just when it appeared the Seles-Capriati rivalry was headed into a higher gear, it took a downward shift. On April 30, 1993, while competing at a WTA event in Hamburg, Seles was stabbed during a changeover. She did not return to competition for more than two years. Capriati struggled with burnout, not playing a single major in ’94 and ’95.
After 1992, Seles and Capriati played one another just seven more times (Seles led 4-3). Their last match went to a third-set tiebreaker, Capriati winning a Miami semifinal in 2002. A decade later, when Capriati was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame, it was fitting that she was introduced by Seles, who’d been inducted three years prior.
“Jennifer and I grew up together,” said Seles that day in Newport, R.I. “We were two teenagers on the tour thrown into this adult world where the spotlight was so bright, the expectations and the demands intense. While we competed fiercely against each other, we could also relate to one another. We shared a bond and great admiration and most importantly, mutual respect.”