Jennifer Capriati

"I'm just waiting to wake up from this dream," Jennifer Capriati told the crowd after winning the 2001 French Open title. "It doesn't seem like reality right now." Understandably so.

Jennifer Capriati was born on March 29, 1976, in New York state, and was groomed to be a tennis champ from day one. While she was still a toddler, her Italian dad Stefano, a former boxer turned tennis coach, and mum Denise, a former Pan-Am stewardess, became members of a Long Island tennis club. Here, Stefano, a self-taught player and coach, encouraged his daughter to roam the tennis courts and to get a feel for the sport.

Later, when Jennifer's burgeoning talent became obvious, the family moved to Florida, where the ten-year-old began an intense training programme with Jimmy Evert, the father of tennis champ Chris.

A relaxation of tour regulations enabled Jennifer to turn pro a year early at the age of 13. She stepped onto the court for the first time as a professional at the Virginia Slims tournament in March 1990, swinging a water bottle she'd brought her own as no-one had mentioned free water was provided and smiled at the Florida hometown crowd. Swiftly crushing her opponent, she got all the way through to the finals before falling to Gabriela Sabatini. America had found its next Chris Evert.

The following year, a 14-year-old Jennifer reached the semi-final of the French Open and later became the youngest player ever seeded at Wimbledon. Lucrative endorsement deals to the tune of £10 million piled in as she went on to win a gold medal at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992. But by then her fans had noticed that the young player didn't seem to be having fun any more and they were right.

"When I looked in the mirror I actually saw this distorted image. I was so ugly and fat I just wanted to kill myself," she says. "At the end of a match, I couldn't wait to get off the court. Mentally, I'd just lost it. I wasn't happy with myself, my tennis, my life, my coaches, my friends..."

A series of run-ins with the law followed, including a 1993 shoplifting incident and a May 1994 arrest for marijuana possession. Jennifer retreated from the spotlight, and between 1994 and 1996 the former child prodigy played just one professional tennis match.

Taking time off from the sport, she enrolled in high school. When she eventually returned to tennis, it was on her own terms.

Jennifer's comeback was not an overnight affair. She struggled for a while, languishing near 100 in the rankings, before deciding to make a go at it and really "do what she was put here to do". Beginning an intensive weight-training programme, the 5ft 8in American defeated world number one Martina Hingis in the final of the Australian Open in January 2001. It was her first Grand Slam win.

"What people think of me is not what I should think of myself," says a newly confident Jennifer. "I feel like I've been reincarnated. I'm living a second life."
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