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Beyond the Baseline

Jennifer Capriati tribute: Welcome to the Hall of Fame

With last week's announcement that Jennifer Capriati will be inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame, it's time to give J-Cap a worthy tribute, Beyond The Baseline style. Capriati, a three-time Grand Slam winner and former No. 1, made a splash in 1990, when she debuted on the WTA Tour as a 13-year-old phenom. She made the finals in two of her first three professional events, and in her Grand Slam debut at Roland Garros, the bubbly-to-the-point-of-blissfully-oblivious Capriati made it all the way to the semifinals before losing to Monica Seles. It took her eleven years (including an absence from the game in 1995) to finally win her first major title at the Australian Open in 2001, but by the time she left the game in 2004 she had left an indelible mark on women's tennis.

Here's a look at Capriati's biggest matches. Some were wins, some were losses, but almost every single one of them was a reflection of what would become her lasting hallmark: She was a fighter.

Bruce Jenkins: Highs and lows, Capriati worthy of Hall | Notable stats

Martina Navratilova def. Capriati, 6-2, 6-4, 1990 Family Circle Cup final.

In her second WTA tour final, Capriati lost to Navratilova, but the precocious teen won hearts with her post-match enthusiasm. She thanked her friends and family, called Martina a "lege", and even grabbed the mic back from Bud Collins. Said Martina at the time, "I think I played a legend in the making. I think Jennifer's got the future in her hands. It'll be fun watching her grow and be a champion because I'm sure she will be."

*****

Capriati def. Steffi Graf, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

Capriati scored the biggest win of her young career at 16 years old, beating second-seeded Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario and top-seeded Graf en route to the gold medal at the Barcelona games. It was Capriati's only career win over Graf (she went 1-10), but what a win it was.

*****

Capriati def. Martina Hingis, 6-4, 6-3, 2001 Australian Open final. 

Despite her young debut, it took Capriati 11 years to finally lift her first Grand Slam trophy. The win capped off her slow and steady comeback, as she became the lowest-seeded player (No. 12) to ever win the Australian Open and became the first woman since Tracy Austin to beat the top two seeds in straight sets en route. The win launched Capriati back into the top 10 after a seven-year absence, and kicked off what would be an incredible three-year run for the Comeback Kid.

*****

Capriati def. Kim Clijsters, 1–6, 6–4, 12–10, 2001 Roland Garros final.

Capriati rallied from a set down to finally win her first -- and only -- Roland Garros title, playing the longest third set at a women's final at Roland Garros. People always wonder how different Kim's career would have been if she had won here (Clijsters was two points from victory four times in the match), but as it was, Capriati became only the fifth woman in history to win the Australian Open and French Open in the same year.

*****

Capriati def. Hingis, 4-6, 7-6 (7), 6-2, 2002 Australian Open final.

In one of the greatest comebacks tennis has ever seen, Capriati came back from a 6-4, 4-0 deficit in searing conditions and saved four championship points to outlast, out-gut, and outwit Hingis for her third and last Grand Slam title. The two staggered through the 95-degree heat, seeking refuge in any sliver of shade they could find, and piling on icepack after icepack during the 10-minute set breaks. After failing to close out the match in the second set, Hingis wilted, and The Resilient One notched another one for the record books.

*****

Justine Henin def. Capriati, 4–6, 7–5, 7–6 (4), 2003 U.S. Open semifinal.

Widely regarded as one of the greatest women's matches ever played in Flushing Meadows, Capriati was upended by Henin, who came back from 2-5 down in the third set and staved off cramping and dehydration to win. Capriati was two points from winning 10 times. "When I came off the court, I felt the whole world was coming down on me, and that my heart was being ripped out," Capriati said at the time. "It hurts."

*****

What are your favorite Capriati moments? Let us know in the comments.

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