October 28, 1990: The day Jennifer Capriati won her first WTA title
- 28 Oct 2020
What happened exactly on that day
On this day, October 28, 1990, 14-year old Jennifer Capriati claimed her first title in San Juan, Puerto Rico. To achieve that feat, the American prodigy defeated world No 8, Zina Garrison, in the final (5-7, 6-4, 6-2). Despite her young age, Capriati wasn’t the youngest player to win a tournament, a record held by Tracy Austin (14 years and 28 days). Thanks to this result, she entered the top 10 for the first time, but she wouldn’t become world No 1 until 2001, 11 years later.
Jennifer Capriati was born in March 1976, in Long Island, New York. In 1986, her family moved to Florida, where, under the guidance of Chris Evert’s father, Jimmy, she became a real tennis prodigy. Her very powerful groundstrokes were quite revolutionary in women’s tennis. At 13, she won the junior events at Roland-Garros, and she turned pro the next year, before even turning 14. In March, she reached the final of her first WTA tournament, in Boca Raton, only defeated by world No 2, Gabriela Sabatini (6-4, 7-5). A few weeks later, in Charleston, she defeated world No 5 Arantxa Sanchez (6-1, 6-1) and finished runner-up to Martina Navratilova (6-2, 6-4). Already ranked No 24, Capriati then became the youngest player to ever reach the final four at Roland-Garros, where she eliminated world No 8, Mary Joe Fernandez, before losing to Monica Seles (6-2, 6-2). Defeated in the US Open fourth round by world No 1, Steffi Graf (6-1, 6-1), she was already the world No 11.
Zina Garrison was born in 1963, in Houston, Texas. She learned tennis in John Wilkerson’s public parks program in Houston, and soon she drew attention by becoming the first black player to be No 1 in Texas. She claimed the first of her six titles in Zurich, in 1984, defeating Claudia Kohde-Kilsch in the final (6-1, 0-6, 6-2), and the same year, she broke into the top 10. In 1985, she reached the semi-finals at Wimbledon (defeated by Martina Navratilova, 6-4, 7-6), which would remain her best Grand Slam result until the 1988 US Open. That time, in New York, she beat Navratilova for the first time in 22 attempts (6-4, 6-7, 7-5), but she was defeated in the semi-finals by Sabatini (6-4, 7-5). In 1990, she achieved her most remarkable performance at Wimbledon, where she finished runner-up to Navratilova, 6-4, 6-1.
The first edition of the Puerto Rico Open was held in 1971, but it was not until 1986 that the tournament was played every year on hard courts in San Juan. In 1990, with a total prize money of $150,000, its two first seeds were the Wimbledon runner-up, Garrison, and the prodigy, Jennifer Capriati.
At the 1990 Puerto Rico Open, the top two seeds faced each other in the final, which pleased the public as well as the organisers. Garrison, runner-up at Wimbledon a few months before, had dropped only one set on her way to the finals, while Capriati hadn’t lost a single set. The 14-year old prodigy was the main attraction of the tournament, and now she had the opportunity to achieve a milestone by claiming her maiden title.
In the first set, which she won 7-5, Garrison dominated the game from the baseline, keeping Capriati off-balance. The teenager, who was struggling with her serve, then decided to change her plans, taking the net no less than 28 times in the next sets, winning 20 points. On top of that, Capriati made only eight unforced errors, and she prevailed, 5-7, 6-4, 6-2. Thanks to her first title, the 14-year old secured her spot at the year-end WTA Tour Championships.
“What a way to end the year,” Capriati said. “Winning here will always be special.”
“She got her rhythm going in the third set and hit a lot of winners,” Garrison said.
In 1991, Zina Garrison would leave the top 10. In 1994, she would reach the Wimbledon quarter-finals for the last time, defeated by Gigi Fernandez (6-4, 6-4). She would retire in 1997.
In 1991 and 1992, Jennifer Capriati would keep rising, reaching the semi-finals at Wimbledon and the US Open, and clinching the gold medal at the Olympic Games in Barcelona (defeating Graf, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4). Unfortunately, she would then struggle to handle the pressure put on shoulders by the media, and in 1994, she would even quit tennis temporarily. Back on the tour in 1996, she would not achieve any remarkable results until the 2000 Australian Open, where she would reach the semi-finals. This would be the start of a new career; from 2001 to her retirement in 2004, Capriati would never leave the top 10 again, claiming three Grand Slam titles (the Australian Open in 2001 and 2002, Roland-Garros in 2001), and reaching the semi-finals no fewer than six times. In October 2001, Capriati would become world No 1, 11 years after her first title in Puerto Rico.
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