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Twenty years ago today, Jennifer Capriati claimed the world No. 1 ranking
October 15, 2001 marked a major milestone in the American’s incredible resurgence.
Published Oct 15, 2021
“I feel as if I’ve been reincarnated,” Jennifer Capriati said one day in 2001.
Given all the 25-year-old Capriati had been through, the logic behind this statement was clear.
Capriati turned pro the month she turned 14, in March 1990. Just over two years later, Capriati had reached the semifinals at three majors, won an Olympic gold medal and beaten all the No. 1s of that era: Stefanie Graf, Monica Seles, Martina Navratilova. But by 17, burnout and injuries set in. Following a first-round loss at the 1993 US Open, Capriati took an extended sabbatical from tennis. In 1994 and ’95 she didn’t enter a single major. Over the next three years, Capriati only played in six majors, winning but a single match.
The spark began to flicker in 1999. Capriati competed in all four majors. Her ranking, 101st in the world at the end of ’98, soared up to 23 by the close of ’99. The next year was even better, highlighted by a run to the semis of the Australian Open, Capriati by the close of 2000 ranked 14th. Still, few could have anticipated what was to come.
Capriati began 2001 on fire. In Melbourne, she made a dazzling run to the title, an effort that included victories over Seles, Lindsay Davenport and, in the finals, Martina Hingis. Later that spring, Capriati’s excellent tennis continued, this time at Roland Garros, where she beat Serena Williams and Hingis to reach the finals. There, Capriati showed exceptional grit to overcome Kim Clijsters, 1-6, 6-4, 12-10.
“I never thought I’d be here 11 years later, after playing my first time here when I was 14 years old,” Capriati said that day in Paris. “Really, I am just waiting to wake up from this dream.” There followed semifinal runs at Wimbledon and the US Open.
October 15, 2001 marked another milestone in Capriati’s incredible resurgence. Her quarterfinal effort in Zurich earned her enough ranking spots to take over the No. 1 spot.
“It feels great,” said Capriati in a BBC story about that accomplishment. “I haven’t really digested it yet . . . Of course, it’s every kid’s dream to be No. 1. For me I think you can appreciate it more when you are older.”
Capriati continued to play excellent tennis, including a successful defense of her Australian Open title. She remained a Top 10 mainstay before retiring at the end of 2004.
Inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2012, Capriati addressed her challenging career arc.
“It was a great struggle for me all these years dealing with the injuries and accepting the fact that I might not return to competition again,” she said in Newport on the day of her induction. “I worked extremely hard during my career on the court and equally as hard, if not harder, to come back. That is why this moment is so incredible for me on so many levels, because this is a return to the game I love.”