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April 8, 1990: the day Martina Navratilova claimed her 150th professional title

Every day Tennis Majors takes you back in time to celebrate a great moment in tennis history. Today, we go back to 1990 to witness how Martina Navratilova, 33 years old, won her 150th WTA tournament, winning a clash of generations against 14-year-old Jennifer Capriati

Navratilova OTD 8_4_1990 Martina Navratilova (USA) – Tennis – Archive Archives – 1990 – Femme Feminin Feminine Femmes – WTA – largeur attitude profil Im103644

What happened exactly

On this day, April 8, 1990, Martina Navratilova won the Hilton Head Family Circles Open, her 150th title on the Tour. To reach that milestone, the former world No 1 pulled out a high-class performance to defeat the 14-year-old prodigy Jennifer Capriati in straight sets (6-2, 6-4). Thanks to this win, Navratilova came one step closer to Chris Evert’s record of 157 titles. 

The players involved: Martina Navratilova and Jennifer Capriati

  • All-round great Martina Navratilova

Martina Navratilova, born in 1956, was, according to Billie Jean King, “the greatest singles, doubles, and mixed doubles player who ever lived,”. Left-handed, she played serve and volley like no one before. According to her rival Chris Evert, she took fitness to a new level in women’s tennis, introducing the idea of cross-training, playing other sports such as basketball in order to improve her physical condition. Navratilova had claimed a total of 17 Grand Slam titles at singles, with a record of eight Wimbledon crowns, six of them having been conquered successively between 1982 and 1987. In 1990, she had already accumulated 30 Grand Slam crowns in doubles, and six in mixed doubles. She only missed the mixed doubles Australian Open title to complete the Boxed Set Grand Slam, meaning winning all the four events in singles, doubles and mixed doubles. She also held a record of six consecutive Grand Slam titles between Wimbledon 1983 and the US Open 1984 (back then, the Australian Open was played in December), and had secured the world No 1 spot for 332 weeks, a record at the time.  However, she hadn’t won a major title since the 1987 US Open, and since she had lost the top spot to Steffi Graf, she had also lost three Grand Slam finals against her German rival. 

Martina Navratilova, Roland-Garros 1984
Martina Navratilova at Roland-Garros in 1984, Fep / Panoramic
  • Teenage prodigy Jennifer Capriati

Jennifer Capriati was born in March 1976, in Long Island, New York. In 1986, her family moved to Florida, where, following the instructions 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). In April, the 14-year-old was ranked 34th in the world.

The place: Family Circle Cup, Hilton Head

The Family Circle Cup, held in Hilton Head, was a prestigious tournament played on American clay (also known as har-tru). Established in 1973, it was won eight times by clay-court legend Chris Evert. However, despite the fact that clay was not her favourite surface, her biggest rival Martina Navratilova had also triumphed there three times already, in 1982, 1983 and 1988. 

The facts

In April 1990, Martina Navratilova was not the same dominant player as she had been in the middle of the 1980s, but she remained one of the five best players in the world. Furthermore, she had begun the season strong, having already claimed three titles since January. At the Family Circle Cup, in Hilton Head, she was the top seed and she made her way into the final without losing a single set.

Having the first seed in the final is always good for the tournament’s director, but this time, on top of that, an amazing clash of generations was to take place, as Jennifer Capriati, who had just turned 14, had stormed through the other half of the draw. In the semi-finals, the teenager destroyed the sixth seed Natasha Zvereva, 6-0, 6-4, to set a final clash against the all-time legend.

Jennifer Capriati
Jennifer Capriati at Roland-Garros in 1990 (Panoramic)

“I had been on tour three years before she was born,” 33-year-old Navratilova reminded the press before the final. 

The former world No 1 rose to the occasion and pulled out a vintage performance to defeat the youngster in straight sets, 6-2, 6-4. Half of the games went to deuce, and the top seed had to save off several break points in the second set, but her serve-and-volley game broke Capriati’s pace. She was more than happy with the result, and she admitted after the match that she had felt nervous before playing such a young opponent.

“It’s a bonus that I’m still playing at 33, but it was nerve-racking to play her,” she said, according to The Washington Post. “And I was out of my element on clay. This was a good test for me. (…) In the beginning of the match, I was trying to get a feel for what she plays like. I was really impressed with her pace. She hits hard from anywhere on the court. And I was impressed with her poise. I’ve never seen anyone like that at 14, and I hope I never see anyone else like that.”

“I can see why she’s such a great champion,” said Capriati. “It was the greatest feeling playing Martina. She’s a legend. It was so much fun and I hope I get another opportunity.”

It was the 150th tournament won by Navratilova since the start of her career, and she was now only seven titles away from Chris Evert’s 157 titles. 

What next

Martina Navratilova would confirm her great shape in 1990 by adding a ninth Wimbledon title – her 18th and last Grand Slam title – defeating Zina Garrison in the final (6-4, 6-1). In the Open Era, no male or female player would ever win more singles tournaments than Navratilova (167), doubles events (177), or matches (2,189). At the end of her career, she would hold 18 Grand Slam titles in singles, 31 in doubles and 10 in mixed doubles. After a first retirement in 1994, Navratilova would come back on the Tour in 2000, playing essentially doubles, and by winning the mixed doubles at the 2003 Australian Open, partnering Leander Paes, she would complete the Boxed Grand Slam and become the oldest Grand Slam champion of all time, at the age of 46. In 2004, she would receive a controversial wildcard into the Wimbledon singles draw. Now 47, she would incredibly win her first round 6-0, 6-2 against world No 102 Catalina Castano before losing to Gisela Dulko, No 59, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3. In 2006, a few weeks from her 50th birthday, she would claim the mixed doubles title at the US Open, partnering Bob Bryan, and finish her career on a victory.

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 Steffi Graf, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4). Unfortunately, she would then struggle to handle the pressure put on her 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 less 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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