October 28, 1990: The day 14-year-old Jennifer Capriati won her first WTA singles title

Every day, Tennis Majors takes you back to one of the most iconic moments in tennis history. On this day in 1990, American Jennifer Capriati beat Zina Garrison to become the fourth youngest player to win a WTA singles title

Jennifer Capriati_OTD_On This Day_28/10 Jennifer Capriati_OTD_On This Day_28/10 Image Credit: © Panoramic / Tennis Majors

What happened exactly on that day?

On this day, October 28 in 1990, 14-year old Jennifer Capriati won her first WTA singles title in San Juan, Puerto Rico. To achieve this, 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 WTA tournament, a record held by Tracy Austin (14 years and 28 days). But she did became the fourth-youngest to do so title after Austin, Kathy Rinaldi and Andrea Jaeger and entered the top 10 for the first time – but wouldn’t become world No 1 until 2001, 11 years later.

The players: Jennifer Capriati and Zina Garrison

  • Jennifer Capriati: the American prodigy who stormed the WTA Tour in 1990

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 power-packed groundstrokes were quite revolutionary in women’s tennis. At 13, she won the junior event at Roland-Garros, and she turned pro the next year, before even turning 14.

In March of 1990, she reached the final of the first WTA tournament she entered, in Boca Raton, and was barely beaten 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), Capriati was already ranked No 11 in the world.

  • Zina Garrison: the girl who went from Houston’s public parks to the Wimbledon final

Zina Garrison was born in 1963 in Houston, Texas. She learned tennis in John Wilkerson’s public parks program in Houston and soon drew attention by becoming the first black player to be ranked 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 broke into the top 10 that same year.

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 was defeated in the semi-finals by Sabatini (6-4, 7-5). In 1990, she achieved her biggest career result when she beat Monica Seles and Steffi Graf to reach the final at Wimbledon, where she went down to Navratilova (6-4, 6-1).

The place: San Juan, Puerto Rico

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 top two seeds were Garrison, the recent Wimbledon finalist, and Capriati, the teenager who was taking the WTA circuit by storm.

The facts: Capriati changes tactics after losing first set to win in three

At the 1990 Puerto Rico Open, the top two seeds faced each other in the final, which pleased the crowd as well as the tournament organisers. Garrison, runner-up at Wimbledon just a few months earlier, had dropped only one set on her way to the finals while Capriati had yet to lose 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, Garrison dominated the game from the baseline, keeping Capriati off-balance and winning it 7-5. The teenager, who was struggling with her serve, then decided to change tactics, taking the net no less than 28 times in the next two sets, and winning 20 of those points. To go with that, Capriati made only eight unforced errors, and finally prevailed, 5-7, 6-4, 6-2. Thanks to her first title, the 14-year old also 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.”

Garrison also acknowledged the strong play of her younger opponent. “She got her rhythm going in the third set and hit a lot of winners,” Garrison said.

What next? Capriati burns out but returns to become world No 1

In 1991, Zina Garrison would exit from the top 10. In 1994, she would reach the Wimbledon quarter-finals for the last time, going down to Gigi Fernandez (6-4, 6-4) and eventually retire in 1997.

In 1991 and 1992, Capriati would keep rising, reaching the semi-finals at Wimbledon and the US Open, and clinching the gold medal at the Barcelona Olympic Games (defeating Graf, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4).

Unfortunately, she would then struggle to handle the pressure put on her young shoulders by the media and in 1994, she would even quit tennis temporarily.

Jennifer Capriati - Roland-Garros 2001
Jennifer Capriati – Image Credit : © Panoramic / Tennis Majors

Back on the tour in 1996, she would not achieve any noteworthy results until the 2000 Australian Open, where she would reach the semi-finals. This would be mark her renaissance; from 2001 to her retirement in 2004, Capriati would never leave the top 10 again, winning three Grand Slam titles (the Australian Open in 2001 and 2002, and Roland-Garros in 2001), and reaching the semi-finals on six other occasions. In October 2001, Capriati would go on to become world No 1, 11 years after her first title in Puerto Rico. She was also inducted into the Tennis Hall of Fame in 2012.

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