1991 US Open: Seles and Capriati introduce power in womens tennis
In 1991, two teenage terrors, Monica Seles and Jennifer Capriati, exchanged bullets in an epic semifinal match at the US Open that altered the direction of women’s tennis.
Legendary tennis commentator Bud Collins described that match, which Seles won in a third-set tiebreaker, as “artillery bombardment.” For the New York Times, it was:
a slugfest conducted by a pair of teenagers whose strokes defied age, gender and the legal speed limit
Excerpts of The 100 greatest days in New York sports by Stuart Miller
“This was tennis as hand-to-hand combat, with little subtlety and no stinting on either recklessness or bravery, depending on your viewpoint.
Although Seles mixed in some lobs and drop shots, every point featured heavy artillery fired within inches of the lines. Although Capriati would say later that she should have been even more aggressive, the two players were remarkably free-swinging, going for broke at the slightest opportunity.
At first, it seemed there’d be no third set as Seles bombarded the crowd favorite to win nine of the first eleven games for a 6-3 3-1 lead. But Capriati pounded back, reeling off five straight games for the second set.
The third set was topsy-turvy, roiling and turbulent, perfect for a couple of adolescents: more than half 84 unforced errors came in this set, and never player held serve through the last seven games. Capriati broke at 1-1, then fought off a break point for a 3-1 lead. But she couldn’t drive the stake through Seles’ powerful heart.
At 5-4 and 6-5 Capriati served for the match, but Seles hit harder, deeper and with more aggression. Capriati even missed entirely on some swings. Finally they went to a tiebreaker. Capriati lead 3-2 but blew a short backhand at 3-3; Seles produced a service winner, demolished a backhand down the line, then blasted a forehand into the corner to win 7-3.
Capriati left in tears and tumbled away from the cusp of greatness. For Seles, the match marked her 11th final in 11 tournaments in 1991. Two days later, winning her sixth crown of the year would establish her as the future of the game.”
Nobody would have thought that Capriati would have to wait 10 years to win her first Grand Slam title (2001 Australian Open).
Seles-Capriati could have been one of the biggest rivalry in women’s tennis, but things didn’t go that way.
Monica Seles was stabbed by a deranged Steffi Graf fan in 1993, and although she returned back on tour two years later, she would never be the same dominant player again. She retired in 2003.
And Jennifer Capriati started acting “confused”, and took a 14-month break from competitive pro tennis in 1993. She came back to top level, and won 3 Grand Slam titles in 2001-2002.
On June 27, 2010, Capriati was taken to a Florida hospital after an overdose of prescription medication.
Born December 2, 1973 Novi Sad, Serbia (former Yugoslavia)
Turned pro 1989
Career record 595–122 (82.98%)
Career titles 53
Highest ranking No. 1 (March 11, 1991)
Grand Slam titles 9
Born March 29, 1976 in New York City, USA
Turned pro March 5, 1990
Career record 430–176
Career titles 14
Highest ranking No. 1 (October 15, 2001)
Grand Slam titles 3