On the Court with ... Jennifer Capriati


By Matt Christopher

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Traces the life of the young woman who entered professional tennis at age thirteen and won a gold medal at the 1992 Olympics.


Copyright © 2004 by Matt Christopher Royalties, Inc.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.

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First eBook Edition: October 2007

ISBN: 978-0-316-03079-3

Chapter One: 1976–89

Born to Play

The comeback is one of the most compelling stories in sports. Watching a team or an individual fight back from way behind or against long odds is exciting. So, too, is seeing a player compete again after suffering an injury.

But very few athletes in any sport have come back as successfully and dramatically as tennis star Jennifer Capriati. In 1990, at the age of thirteen, she became a professional tennis player. Within a year, she was ranked in the top ten in women's tennis. Most tennis observers expected that it would only be a matter of time before she became number one. She was one of the most famous athletes in the world, earning millions of dollars and appearing on the covers of dozens of magazines. Everyone loved her.

Although it seemed as if Jennifer had everything she needed, she wasn't prepared for her early success. She began to resent the way her entire existence revolved around tennis. Her progress as a tennis player stalled, and she stopped training. By 1995, she had given up tennis completely, and her personal life was a mess. At age eighteen, Jennifer was a has-been, best known as someone who used to play tennis.

Then, just when no one ever expected to hear from her again, Jennifer learned that tennis wasn't the cause of her problems. She discovered that she was responsible for her own happiness and that she still enjoyed playing tennis. She got her life together, resumed training, and within a very short time mounted one of the greatest comebacks in sports. Now, once again, Jennifer Capriati is one of the top-ranked tennis players in the world. This time around, she is determined to stay on top.

Jennifer Capriati began playing tennis almost before she was born. Her mother, Denise, was a flight attendant. On a trip to Italy in 1972, she met a dashing former soccer player named Stefano Capriati.

Stefano was handsome and athletic. Although he was born poor, he had become very successful. After a brief career as a soccer goalie, he had become a stuntman in Spain, appearing in a number of movies. Denise and Stefano fell in love and soon got married.

For several years, they lived in both Spain and Long Island, New York. Stefano had taught himself to play tennis and was talented enough to work as a club pro in New York, teaching the game to others. Denise was one of his first students.

Even after she became pregnant with her first child, Denise continued to take tennis lessons. The day before Jennifer Capriati was born on March 29, 1976, Denise played tennis with Stefano. "He knew she would be a tennis player before she was even born," joked Jennifer's mother later.

Jennifer was a very precocious baby. She learned to swim before she could crawl and could swing on monkey bars before she could walk. Her father often took her to the tennis club when he gave lessons. She would chase loose tennis balls while he taught. Crawling around a tennis court was as normal for Jennifer as crawling around her own living room.

When she was three years old, Jennifer's father gave her a racket and started teaching her how to play the game. At first, he concentrated on the basics, teaching her how to hold the racket and strike the ball.

Jennifer loved being with her father and playing tennis. Within a year, she was able to return balls shot toward her from a ball machine. Jennifer's little brother, Steven, chased after the loose balls just as Jennifer once had.

Her father was impressed by her ability and began to plan Jennifer's tennis career. To that end, the Capriatis moved from Long Island to Lauderhill, Florida, so Jennifer could play tennis all year long. Stefano began working in real estate.

Soon after moving to Florida, Jennifer's father decided that it was time for his daughter to take tennis lessons. He wanted her to learn from the best. A teacher named Jimmy Evert lived and worked in nearby Fort Lauderdale.

Jimmy Evert was a legend in tennis teaching. His daughter Chris was one of the best tennis players in the world. Jimmy had started teaching Chris the game when she was about Jennifer's age, and by the time Chris was sixteen, she was already a top-ranked women's player. Jennifer's father thought his daughter could be just as good as Chris Evert, perhaps even better.

He took Jennifer to see Jimmy Evert. Evert eyed Jennifer and asked her father how old she was. When Stefano said she was only four, Evert said "She's too young for me" and explained that he didn't work with students under the age of five.

But Jennifer's father was persistent. He begged Evert to watch her hit some balls before making a final decision. Evert agreed, and Stefano began hitting some balls to Jennifer.

Evert was stunned by what he saw. When the ball was to her left, Jennifer nimbly set her feet, held the racket with both hands, and fired a backhand shot to her father. When the ball was to her right, she held the racket with her right hand and deftly returned a forehand shot. On the rare occasion she missed a shot, she picked up the ball, threw it in the air, and served the ball straight back to her father.

She was the best four-year-old Evert had ever seen, much better than his own daughter had been at that age. In fact, Jennifer was already as good as some of the young students Evert was already training. Although she was small, she handled the racket well and obviously knew what she was doing, scurrying back and forth to get the best angle on the ball. Evert readily agreed to start giving Jennifer tennis lessons.

For the next five years, Jennifer spent several hours each week taking lessons from Jimmy Evert. She also played nearly every day with her father. When her brother, Steven, was old enough, he began to play tennis, too. Tennis became the most important thing in the Capriatis' life. Stefano and Denise arranged their schedules around their children's tennis lessons and worked extra hours to pay for them.


On Sale
Oct 15, 2007
Page Count
96 pages

Matt Christopher

About the Author

Matt Christopher is the best-selling name behind more than 100 sports-themed books for young readers.

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