JCap & Guga – New Kids in Newport

Jennifer Capriati will the the final member of the Class of 2012 that will be inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame this year. Both Capriati and Gustavo Kuerten have been selected for induction in the Recent Player category; Kuerten’s nomination was announced in March.

Capriati, 36, captured 14 career titles, including three Grand Slams. She won the Australian Open in 2001 and 2002, as well as Roland Garros in 2001. A gold medalist (d. Graf) at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, she held the #1 ranking for 18 weeks, and finished her career with an impressive 430-176 career record.

Capriati made her WTA Tour debut in 1990 at the tender age of 13, and reached the final in the first event she played in Boca Raton (l. to Sabatini). She made the semifinals of Roland Garros that year after her 14th birthday, and also won her first career title in Puerto Rico (d. Garrison).

After winning 6 titles from 1990-1993, Capriati took an extended break from the game following a first round loss at the 1993 US Open. During this time, her personal struggles with shoplifting and drugs were well-chronicled.

Capriati returned to the WTA in 1996 but did not win another title until Strasbourg in 1999 (d. Likhovtseva). She came into the 2001 Australian Open seeded 12th, and stormed her way through the draw, defeating #1 Martina Hingis 64 63 for her first Grand Slam title. Following her title, she returned to the top 10 after an eight year absence. Seeded fourth at that year’s Roland Garros, she again defeated Hingis, this time in the semifinals. Capriati defeated Kim Clijsters in what is widely regarded as a classic final, 16 64 1210.

The top seed and defending champion at the 2002 Australian Open, Capriati battled her way into the final for the second straight year, and again found Hingis on the other side of the net. However, this final was a contrast from the previous year, as Capriati saved four match points and stormed back from 64 40 down to take the title, 46 76(7) 62.

Injuries took their toll late in Capriati’s career, and although she never officially retired from competition, she has not competed on the WTA since 2004.

“I am thrilled to learn that I have been elected to the International Tennis Hall of Fame,” Capriati said in a statement. “This is a dream come true and an extraordinary tribute. I love this game and am incredibly honored by the Hall of Fame’s vote. Tennis has been my passion and dedication for my entire life, and to be acknowledged for this passion and dedication is truly icing on the cake.”

Kuerten, 35, nicknamed “Guga” by the public, was a three time champion at Roland Garros (1997, 2000, 2001). In total, Kuerten captured 20 career titles, and held the #1 ranking for 43 weeks.

Kuerten rose to prominence during his run to the 1997 Roland Garros title (d. Bruguera), and became the 3rd lowest ranked man to win a Grand Slam title (66th). In 1999, he became the first Brazilian to qualify for what is now known as the ATP World Tour Finals, reserved for the best eight players in the world. He won the event in 2000, defeating Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras in back-to-back matches.

In late 2004, age and injuries began to catch up with Kuerten, and he played sparingly on the ATP Tour from 2005-2008. At Roland Garros in 2008, Kuerten received a wild card into the the tournament to bid farewell to his devoted fans and the tournament he loved. Although he lost in straight sets to Paul-Henri Mathieu, he was honored in a ceremony after the match by tournament organizers and fans. Kuerten retired from the ATP Tour in May 2008, having compiled a 358-195 career record.

“I have to confess, in my first years playing tennis, I didn’t even know that the Hall of Fame existed,” Kuerten said. “It was something I really didn’t expect to happen. Now I know how important it is to be there.”

Spanish legend Manuel Orantes, administrator Mike Davies and wheelchair player Randy Snow (posthumously) will also be inducted.

The Class of 2012 Induction Ceremony will be held on July 14, 2012 at the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, Rhode Island.