Saturday, February 16, 2008

Monica Seles

by Savannah

A lot of things happened this week but I want to take a moment and talk about one of my all time favorites, Monica Seles.

As every tennishead knows Monica, 34, officially retired this past week. There had been rumors about a comeback but even those faded as it became clear that Monica had other things on her mind.

We all remember the giggly screeching phenomenon who burst on the scene at the tender age of 15 with a game that revolutionized women's tennis and ushered in the Big Babe era in the women's game.

What was her record? Let me post excerpts from an article by Richard Pagliaro that quotes Jimmy Connors on her talent and heart:

The owner of a 595-122 record, Seles won concluded 1991 and 1992 as World No. 1. In a sensational, sustained span of dominance she won eight of the 11 Grand Slam tournaments she entered from 1989 to 1993. She inspired a legion of top players, including Venus Williams and Serena Williams, Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic. In a past interview with Tennis Week, Hall of Famer Jimmy Connors said Seles' fighting spirit, willingness to play even closer to the lines on pivotal points and her aggressive baseline style made her the player that most reminded him of himself.

"Who reminds me of me? Monica Seles is the player I think who played the game the way I tried to play it." Connors told Tennis Week in a past interview. "She always played as hard as she could every single match and left it all on the court. I have tremendous respect for Seles."

A stress fracture in her foot caused Monica to step away from the game five years ago but it was the incident in Germany when she was nineteen that stopped Monica's march to what would have been uncontested greatness in the WTA. Here is a report from the New York Times with details.

Monica spoke about the incident in a radio interview before a recent appearance in California with Steve Hartman, Mychal Thompson and Vic "The Brick" Jacobs on "The Loose Cannons Show". Here are excerpts from that interview that appear in the Richard Pagliaro article.

On being stabbed at a match April 30, 1993 in Hamburg, Germany:
"I was only 19 when I got stabbed. It would never have happened in any other sport. I said to myself, `Why me,’ but I was proud of myself that I was able to move on and to get back to the sport that I loved and adore. That to me was the final triumph after a few bad years."
On the lack of punishment to her attacker:
"I really felt that I could not justify in my own brain someone stabs you in front of 7,000 people, admits that he planned it, and never spends a night in jail. I don’t feel safe playing there (in Germany) again after what happened to me."
On returning to tennis after her stabbing:
"I was lucky. My mom and dad had really strong personalities and supported me. At the end of the day, the love I had for the game I started at 7 years old motivated me to come back. I never imagined I would make a great living and travel throughout the world. I started playing tennis because I loved it. I tell kids, `don’t look at the fame and the money. Play tennis because you love it.’ I missed it."
On not hearing from other players after her stabbing:
"The women's tour is very competitive. There’s a lot of money at stake. It is what it is. It was very unfortunate. It changed my career and it changed Stefi’s (Graf). That’s life. It is a business."
On playing in the 1998 French Open after her dad, Karoly, died:
"My dad passed away a couple days before the French (Open). I thought, `What would my dad want me to do?’ He battled cancer. I thought, `follow your heart,’ and my heart told me to go out and play for my dad. He was a cartoonist. He always saw the lighter side of everything. Part of me said stay home, but I knew that was not what my dad would have wanted."
On her dad’s coaching philosophy:
"He saw the bigger picture of sports, instead of just win or lose. He was human. Sports is a business and cutthroat and people will do anything to win, but I was lucky I had my dad as my coach and he never put pressure on me. Win or lose, the love he gave me was the same. Sadly I see too many cases are the other way now."
On the state of women’s tennis:
"(Justine) Henin has on average dominated the (WTA) tour, but if you look at the championships in Madrid, you see Henin beat (Marion) Bartoli 6-0, 6-0. Those scores shouldn’t happen in the championships. You want to see the top players play each other. That’s the only way the fans will tune in."
On tennis players having shorter careers due to other distractions:
"It’s harder now. You have to be a multi-media athlete. You have to look good, speak well and do all the off the court stuff. In the old days, we did much less. Tennis is a brutal sport. We play 10 and a half months a year. It’s hard to stay injury-free. A lot of the top players struggle with that. Roger (Federer) has a different game. It doesn’t take as much out of him as Serena (Williams). Roger has played every Grand Slam since 1999. That statistic alone is amazing."
On becoming a U.S. citizen in 1994:
"It was the happiest day of my life. Playing in the Olympics in Atlanta in 1996 and representing our country was the biggest honor I’ve ever had. It surpasses all the tournaments I played in."

I was a novice tennis fan when Monica burst on the scene. I had been used to watching Chrissie and Martina, Gabriella and remember wondering who this kid was. I'm sure many younger fans can only imagine how intense the rivalry was between Monica and Steffi and how you were a fan of one or the other woman.

How high passions ran are symbolized by what happened in Germany. When you go to a major to watch the current crop of players and see all the security when a player enters or leaves the court you have to remember that this guy just walked up to Monica and stabbed her in the back. Conversations on fan boards get heated these days and maybe that's a good thing. We can virtually pummel each other and the players we don't like instead of trying to attack someone physically. If you get to a major and hang on the practice courts when a major star is around you see the security as well. Fans pushing and shoving to see their fave when he or she comes off the court may seem harmless to many fans. Unfortunately the player's security has to be taken into consideration first.

We are fortunate that someone of Monica's talent came along when she did. I don't think the image meisters of tennis would have allowed her to get the endorsements and publicity. She wasn't a babe, she wasn't rail thin, and her hair had a mind of it's own. It was all about the tennis.

In my opinion Monica was the greatest of her time because her effect on the game has lasted and made it impossible to go back to the genteel days of women's tennis. There were top players who did not play big babe tennis, Steffi Graf and Martina Hingis come to mind, but to me they were transitional greats. Their style of tennis won't get you past a first round in a Tier IV these days.

I hope Monica hangs around and decides to play an exho or two or three. I mean if Pete Sampras can still make millions playing exho's I don't see why Monica can't as well. I don't want to dictate to her what to do but it would be nice to see her on a court again.

Thank you Monica for all you gave this fan, and all of tennis.


BeefingFraeulein said...

Thank you for this post. We share
so many of the feelings that you expressed here.

I loved Monica's heart so much on the court. Great champion.

Savannah said...

Thank you and welcome!
As the song says, Monica was "simply the best" in my book.

kraa said...

Stefi Graf playing genteel tennis??? As John McEnroy used to say - "You cannot be serious"

Savannah said...

Fraulein Forehand was not a practitioner of Big Babe Tennis IMO. She was transitional. She played tough, and she could hit, but she never, shall I say, threw herself in the way Monica, Venus and Serena did.

Then again I was/am a Monica fan so maybe I wasn't an objective observer of her.