Jennifer Maria Capriati was born on March 29, 1976 in New York, New York. Her mother, Denise, is a New York native who worked as a flight attendant for Pan Am airlines. Her father, Stefano, was a professional soccer player whose career was cut short by a knee injury. He then taught himself to play tennis. He also moved to Spain to pursue a career as a stuntman and he appeared in such films as Patton, The Last Run, and 100 Rifles. Denise and Stefano Capriati met in Spain when Denise was there for a layover. They married two years later and had two children—a daughter, Jennifer, and a son, Steven.
Both Denise and Stefano enjoyed playing tennis and decided that when they had children, they would also want them to play tennis. Jennifer Capriati was engulfed by the tennis world from birth. "Ten days after she was born, I was back on the court, playing to get back into shape," Denise Capriati told Bruce Lowitt of the St. Petersburg Times in November of 1988. "She was right there on the court with me. When she started crawling, it was on the court, pushing a ball around."
At the age of three Capriati began hitting balls with her father. Even though she did not understand the game of tennis, she learned to hit the balls back. Although Capriati was born in New York, she spent her first years of life living in Spain. However, the family moved to Lauderhill, Florida, near Fort Lauderdale, in 1980 to build Jennifer's tennis career. At the age of five Capriati began taking lessons at Holiday Park with Jimmy Evert, the father of American tennis sensation Chris Evert. Evert was reluctant to take such a young student, but he was quickly impressed with her skills.
At the age of nine Capriati started taking lessons with Rick Macci at the International Tennis Academy in Grenelefe, Florida so that she could play against other children. Every weekend her parents would drive three and a half hours for her training with Macci. After a year they decided to move to Grenelefe. Capriati attended public school daily from 8:00 a.m. until 1:00 p.m. and then practiced tennis from 2:30 p.m. until 6:30 p.m. She had the weekends to herself, unless she was playing in a tournament.