NEWPORT, R.I. — Jennifer Capriati’s tennis career – and her teenage life – took a number of twists and turns.
She started as a teenage prodigy, was later sidetracked with off-court troubles, rebounded to become a three-time Grand Slam champion and, now, her journey is complete with her induction into the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
Capriati and several others were inducted into the Hall during a 90-minute ceremony Saturday.
Joining Capriati were recently retired player Gustavo Kuerten, master player Manuel Orantes, tennis industry executive Mike Davies and wheelchair champion Randy Snow, who was honored posthumously.
In a tear-filled acceptance speech, Capriati, 36, remembered her great moments in the game and touched on some of her troubles off the court.
“I still managed to overcome some adversity, win a gold medal, win some Grand Slams and stand at the podium at the Hall of Fame,” said Capriati, breaking into tears during her acceptance speech. “This is one milestone I thought I’d never achieve.”
As a 14-year-old, she burst onto the scene fresh out of the eighth grade and reached the semifinals at her first Grand Slam event – the 1990 French Open.
Three years later, drug and other problems sidetracked her life and career. She temporarily dropped off the tour after the 1993 U.S. Open.
She was arrested that year for shoplifting at a Florida mall, and again the next year for marijuana possession. She also spent time in drug rehabilitation in 1994.
Capriati also feels she left the game a little earlier than she wanted because of injuries.
“It was tough having to leave the game,” she said, cracking a bit with emotion. “It’s like mourning a loved one that’s gone and a relationship’s that gone, a part of yourself. …
“It took a while to accept that and let go. This is so great for me because it’s putting a lot of closure to my career and I’m able to move forward, give thanks, take thanks, give the honor and take the honor, and just be acknowledged here. It means everything to me.”
After dropping off the scene, she returned to the sport in 1996.
Five years later, she reached those lofty expectations that were thrust upon her, beating past champions Monica Seles, Lindsay Davenport and Martina Hingis en route to the 2001 Australian Open title and her first top-10 ranking in seven years.
She was selected as The Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year later that year.
The comeback didn’t stop there – she followed that by capturing the French Open and was the only player to reach at least the semis in all four Grand Slams that year.
The highlight match of her career – and maybe one of the top performances in the game – was the 2002 Australian Open when she trailed Hingis 4-6, 0-4 before rallying to a three-set victory.
She won a gold medal for the United States at Barcelona in 1992. Her career ended in 2004 with a 430-176 record.
Kuerten was No. 1 in the world for 43 weeks and the clay-court specialist captured French Open titles in 1997, 2000 and ’01.
“I believe it’s the surface you have to suffer more,” the 35-year old Brazilian said. “You have to be out there for many hours. You have to use every weapon you can and fight like a warrior. It’s fun to try.”
During his speech he joked about being enshrined along with Capriati.
“Jennifer, I don’t want to compare my career to yours, otherwise they’d think about having me,” he said.
Orantes, elected in the Master Player category, reached No. 2 in the world in 1973. The 63-year old Spanish star stayed in the top 10 for five straight years.
Davies was elected in the contributor category. He held executive positions with various tennis organizations and was a driving force behind the game’s move to network television, instituting rules offering breaks for commercials to make the game more appealing to the networks.
“We basically tried to do things in a professional show business,” the 76-year old said. “It was during our time we were basically able to get on TV.”
Snow, who died in November 2009, won 22 major tournaments. His father, Tom, accepted on his late son’s behalf.
“Randy’s hero was Brad Parks,” Snow’s father said, referring to the Hall’s first wheelchair entrant, enshrined in 2010.