Celebrities to compete in Evert tennis event[10.30.2009]
BOCA RATON, FL -- Chris Evert is hoping to see you next weekend.
The Chris Evert Raymond James Pro-Celebrity Tennis Classic kicks off the first weekend in November.
This is the event's 20th year.
The event supports the fight against drug abuse and child neglect in South Florida and proceeds benefit the Ounce of Prevention Fund and the Drug Abuse Foundation of Palm Beach County.
Celebrities scheduled to participate this year include Matt Lauer, Jeffrey Donovan, Jon Lovitz, and Gavin Rossdale.
Tennis legends and starts ready to compete include Lindsay Davenport, Pam Shriver, Monica Seles, and Martina Navratilova.
Organizers say Greg Norman will no longer be participating in the event.
The Pro-Celebrity Tennis Classic takes place at the Boca Raton Resort & Club and the Delray Beach Tennis Center November 6th-8th.
The Gala Dinner Dance & Auction is at the Boca Resort on Saturday, November 7, with entertainment by Natalie Cole.
Call 561-394-2400 or visit www.chrisevert.org for ticket and event information.
Laureus Member Monica Seles Launches Inaugural 'up2us' Conference[10.23.2009]
'Tennis gave me life skills that I carried through my career - says Monica Seles as she delivers keynote speech at conference.
Laureus World Sports Academy member Monica Seles has made the keynote speech at the inaugural Up2Us National Conference in Washington D.C. which has brought together many of the organisations involved in the Sport for Good movement in the United States and around the world.
The Up2Us assembly, being held at Georgetown University Conference Centre, is the first conference to unite all organisations in the field of sports-based youth development.
Tennis legend Monica Seles, representing the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation along with Global Director Ned Wills, told the delegates: "Tennis gave me the leadership skills and life skills that I have carried with me throughout my career. Every day, children involved in sports programmes gain similar skills that will help them succeed on and off the court."
One of the main issues on which the conference focused was cuts that were being made in sports-based community programmes and the harmful impact this was having on young people.
Although unable to be present in Washington, Dr Edwin Moses, Chairman of the Laureus World Sports Academy, said: "The recession has taken a significant toll on youth sports. According to a new report released by Up2Us, an estimated US$2 billion has been cut from U.S. youth sports programmes in the past year. The continued existence of sports-based youth development programmes in our inner cities, suburbs and rural areas is a necessity, and not an option.
"The Laureus Sport for Good Foundation supports the opportunity that this conference brings to highlight these issues to a larger national audience. The initiatives that will flow from this conference to develop and implement creative solutions at the local, state and national level to save youth sport is of vital importance. It is incumbent on us all to ensure that every generation has the opportunity to learn the many important lessons that involvement in sports can teach," said Moses.
And Monica Seles added: "Cuts to these programmes mean that more children will lose out on the ability to discover a sport that they love and develop the skills that come along with this."
The two-day conference has brought together organisations, researchers, practitioners, world renowned athletes and political leaders to learn from each other, share ideas, identify opportunities and celebrate the important work being done in the field.
Research conducted by Up2Us has demonstrated that children and young people who play sports are less likely to suffer from childhood obesity or lifelong medical conditions including diabetes and asthma, less likely to join gangs, drop out of school, or experience teenage pregnancy and more likely to do well in school and graduate from university or college.
Laureus is a universal movement that celebrates the power of sport to bring people together as a force for good. Laureus is composed of three core elements - the Laureus World Sports Academy, the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation and the Laureus World Sports Awards - which collectively celebrate sporting excellence and harness the power of sport to promote social change.
The mission of the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation is to utilise the power of sport to address social challenges through a global programme of sports related community development initiatives, using sport as a tool for social change. The Foundation supports almost 70 projects worldwide and since its inception Laureus has raised "20 million for projects which have helped to improve the lives of one million young people.
Edwin Moses and Monica Seles are members of the Laureus World Sports Academy, a group of 46 of the greatest living sporting legends, who support the work of the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation. The Laureus Academy members volunteer their time to act as global ambassadors for the Foundation by using their influence to highlight the plight of disadvantaged children and supporting humanitarian projects around the world.
Up2Us is a US-based national coalition that seeks to increase the impact of, and access to, youth sports as a tool for positive youth development. With more than 200 member organisations, Up2Us is focused on increasing the quality and quantity of youth sports programmes, involving more children in sport-based youth development programmes, and engaging more adults to work and volunteer with these programmes. For more information, or to view the research report, visit www.Up2Us.org.
Monica Seles given key to the city[10.05.2009]
Sarasota city hall was starry-eyed Monday, as commissioners honored a world famous tennis star.
Tennis champion Monica Seles was given the key to the City of Sarasota Monday night. Seles has lived in Sarasota for the past 25 years and was elected to the Tennis Hall of Fame this past summer.
She has used her celebrity to help with several area charities. "Everybody in this room knows how wonderful of a place Sarasota is...the beaches and everything. And I look forward to being here for many, many more years. And what a great honor to receive the key to the city," said Seles.
Seles won 9 grand slams in her career.
She told commissioners that every time she was away on a tour, she couldn't wait to get back home to the Suncoast.
Seles to receive much deserved key to Sarasota[10.04.2009]
By Mic Huber
Even though she isn't quite certain what they will unlock, Monica Seles says she is humbled that she will be receiving a key to the city Monday evening during the regular City Commission meeting.
She shouldn't be. Seles clearly deserves the key and any tribute the city wants to offer.
"I am very excited," Seles said this week about getting her key. "It is a great honor."
And it is about time.
Seles has lived most of her life in Sarasota almost from the time she turned professional and began to dominate women's tennis.
Seles is one of Sarasota's greatest ambassadors, not only through her work for various charities throughout the years but also for the fame she has brought to the area.
Seles finished her tennis career with 53 singles titles, including nine Grand Slam singles championships. She also became one of the great personalities in the game.
During the early 1990s, Seles dominated the game. In a two-year period, Seles won 22 titles and reached the final in 33 of 34 tournaments she played.
She was ranked No. 1 in the world by the age of 17 and held that ranking in April, 1993 when, at the height of her career, she was stabbed in the back during a changeover at a tournament in Germany by a crazed tennis fan of Steffi Graf.
Seles returned to the game after a two year absence, and won another Grand Slam title. Yet she never recovered the dominance she once possessed despite still being one of the top players in the game.
It was tennis that took Seles to the top, but she always remained grounded. Some of her greatest moments took place away from the spotlight, times when she quietly gave her time and energy to helping people and causes.
Among the several causes she supported locally, Seles made several appearances at the Sarasota Boys and Girls Club.
She has always enjoyed the low-key lifestyle of Sarasota. Several of Seles' closest friends were people she met throughout her daily life, people she would meet on the street or in restaurants.
She sometimes would take people under her wing, like the young tennis player she saw crying in the locker room at the U.S. Open. The girl, playing in the U.S. Open junior tournament, had recently lost her mother and broke down after losing a match in the junior event. Seles, who would lose in the women's final that year to Graf, befriended the girl. Seles stayed in New York after the tournament ended and served as host to the girl, showing the youngster the sights of the city.
This has been a busy year for Seles. Her tennis accomplishments opened the doors to the International Tennis Hall of Fame this past summer and her induction left Seles, now 35, in awe.
"It was like, 'Wow. Wow.'" Seles said about the experience at Newport, R.I in July. "Then you see your name on that plaque among all those great tennis players. It is so special. You kind of have to pinch yourself.
"What a way to finish my tennis career. The only thing missing that weekend was my father (who passed away in 1998). Everything else, I couldn't have asked for a better day."
While at the ceremonies, Seles was able to see the exhibit that is home for all the trophies she won in tennis. Seles donated her entire collection, which includes the first trophy she was at the age of six to the final one at age 29, as well as all those grand slam trophies.
She did so in hopes that they may encourage young players to take up the game.
"I was given a tennis racket when I was young and it changed my life," Seles said. "I felt that maybe some kids walking through the stadium (at the HOF) might see the trophies and be inspired.
"I have given back what I was given, and they found a permanent home."
Just like Seles has made Sarasota her permanent home. And Monday she will get a key to the city.
"I was wondering," she giggled. "What do I get to do with those keys?" Seles quipped.
Symbolically, it means she is always welcome in Sarasota.
And that's a good thing.
Rogers Cup Opening-Night Exhibition[08.17.2009]
The past, present and potential future of tennis were on display tonight in an entertaining exhibition match at the Rogers Cup.
Former stars Martina Navratilova and Monica Seles graced the stadium court at the Rexall Centre, joined by 2001 tournament champion Serena Williams and rising Canadian star Aleksandra Wozniak.
Navratilova and Williams earned a 6-3 victory over Seles and Wozniak in the one-set exhibition, in front of an enthusiastic crowd that enjoyed clear skies and balmy temperatures.
The match coincided with Seles's induction into the Rogers Cup Hall of Fame, a fitting honour for the only woman in the last century to win four straight Canadian championships. After the quartet posed for post-match pictures, Seles was honoured on the court and fought back tears as she watched a video tribute highlighting her success in Canada.
She then posed for more photos in front of her Hall of Fame plaque.
"As soon as I got the invitation, I was like, `Yes, I have to do this,"' said Seles. "The amazing times that I had here in Toronto . . . I love playing here, so it holds a special place in my heart."
Prior to the match, the four players met with the media to discuss a number of topics – including Williams's book "On The Line," due out Sept. 1. Williams, seeded second at the Rogers Cup, said she learned plenty while she wrote the book – mainly, how bad a sister she was.
"You'll learn that ... being the youngest child, I can't always get my way, and I was a brat," said Williams. "When I was writing the book, I didn't realize how bratty and awful I was. It's funny to see, as a six- or seven-year-old, all the terrible things I did to (older sister) Venus and all my sisters, and I'm so embarrassed, 'cause they reminded me of how awful I was."
Navratilova had the most to say. She started by criticizing people who complain that there's no clear-cut No. 1 in women's tennis, pointing out that the men's game used to face the same predicament.
"I find it sort of a double standard," said Navratilova. "When Chris (Evert) and I were dominating, people were like, `Oh, it's always Chris and Martina in the finals, we always know who's going to be there . . . with the men, they have so much depth, you never know who's going to win.'
"Now you've got (Rafael) Nadal, (Roger) Federer winning everything for five years, and the women have been going back and forth, different No. 1s. Now people say `Well with men, we've got Federer-Nadal, they're so great, but with the women, nobody's dominating.' I find this double standard really annoying."
Navratilova also said she's enjoying her second career as a TV commentator - mostly because it's easier on the body.
"I like doing the commentary now, seeing it from the other side," said Navratilova. "It's much easier talking about it than doing it.
"Also, you don't have to stretch and warm up, you just show up five minutes before the match and you start talking. It's very easy. You don't have to warm down afterwards, either."
Wozniak, the highest-ranked Canadian player and only singles competitor remaining, reiterated that she doesn't feel added pressure in her home country.
"I'm definitely proud of being a Canadian, and whenever the time is right, I can win here at home," said Wozniak. "I'm excited to play."
Seles' Hall of Fame Summer Continues[08.15.2009]
Already inducted this summer into the International Tennis Hall of fame in Newport, Rhode Island, Monica Seles is about to receive even more red carpet treatment. At the site of her courageous comeback to the sport in 1995, Seles will be inducted into the Rogers Cup Hall of Fame in Toronto on Monday night.
Having finally admitted that her body could no longer compete at the level she was accustomed to, Seles announced her retirement in 2008. Her last tour match was at the French Open in 2003. Seles will return to the court in Toronto one last time on Monday night in an exhibition doubles match along with Martina Navratilova, Serena Williams and Aleksandra Wozniak.
Seles spent some time on a conference call with tournament media on Thursday and discussed her induction and her fond memories of playing tennis in Canada. Looking at her career in the rear view mirror seemed quite comfortable for Seles, and her trademark giggle was still in full effect at numerous moments throughout the question period.
I am so excited to be back in Toronto. I had the absolute best memories from coming back there in 1995 after my stabbing and being off the tour for two and a half years and the reception that I received that evening when I went out there on the Rexall Center court I will never forget. So when I heard that Tennis Canada together with Rogers Communications will be inducting me into the Rogers Cup Hall of Fame, I right away said, "yes - I'm coming." And I want to play, I really haven't got a chance to play much because my foot has been hurting me but this last three weeks I went into overdrive knowing that I'm going to be playing against Serena, and Aleks and Martina so I've just been excited I think and hopefully the fans will be excited for great tennis Monday night. And just what an honor for me and what a great way to cap, to finish off my career. And I always played some of my best tennis in Toronto, I always played that tournament and I always loved coming there and I really, I just can't wait to get there, to play Monday night, see all the fans that really supported me throughout my career and just watch some fantastic tennis.
Q: You had such a great run here in Canada from '95 to '98, I think you only dropped one set in those four years combined. What do you attribute your incredible success here in Canada to?
A: I just always loved playing Canada. I always had the greatest fans in Canada. I loved the courts, I loved the centre court. As I mentioned, the Rogers Cup in terms of the arena, it was beautiful especially when you guys built the brand new one, and you know certain places you just love and Toronto for me was always one of them. And I always brought out the best tennis in me, I always played some great matches. I had some hard fought matches but there was something - that extra special feeling - that, you know, I can pull through this and I can win this tournament. That's why I won so many championships there.
Q: What do you remember most about walking back onto the court in your comeback after the stabbing?
A: Walking down those stairs at the old stadium, I would get very nervous because I didn't play a match in two and a half years, I didn't know what lay ahead of me. And just walking down in that stadium, the reception that I received, the signs - welcome back Monica - the pictures and the high fives going into the matches, I said you know what, this feels like home, I made the right decision. And throughout that tournament it was just like a magical run. I played some great tennis, and to win right away your first tournament, I really couldn't have done it without the fans, and as I mentioned when I was introduced I'll never forget that. Any chance at this one that I've got, that I'm being inducted into the Rogers Cup Hall of Fame, these are things that, you know, when I'll be sixty or so, telling my kids or grand kids, I'll be very proud. These things just don't happen that often, what a wonderful honor, and really what a great way to cap my career off.
A: You miss the competitivess, you miss some of your friends on the tour. I don't miss the traveling part, but also, I have to be realistic - that my foot just wasn't ready to come back to play at the world class level that I always played in my career and I had to face the reality of retiring. And last year when I did that, I know I'd given it my best, because for three years I tried really hard, and you know, the reality was that my body just gave up on me. So now I still play tennis because it is a sport for a lifetime, I enjoy it, I try to inspire young kids to pick up the racquet and now it's really more like the fun years.
Q: When you came on to the circuit, your aggressive style of play contributed a lot to how the womens game changed. What do you notice since you've been away from the game - how it's changed since you played?
A: Well I think not so much since I retired in my last match in 2003, because already then Serena and Venus were really the stronger players out there and dominating I think as you see them really doing right now. I actually don't think so much, I think now there's a lot more, you don't have, um, maybe, like, I don't know, I really don't think it has changed that much. The girls are hitting the ball really hard, they're super, super fit, mentally they are very strong, they're very hungry when they step out there. I really believe that womens tennis is really at a fantastic time right now, and the only thing that it holds, if it does hold it back, is when the top players get injuries. But I think this year has been really good. It seems the players are much better at planning their schedules so they don't get injured as often as has been happening the last few years.
Q: And when you came onto the scene you were young and in your teens still, do you think if you were to do that now you would still be as successful as you were back then?
A: I think, I mean, you know it's so hard, you can't compare, who knows what would have been? All I can do is that I know I would have worked very hard. I had, you know, always enjoyed playing tennis and I knew I gave it my best every single time I stepped on the tennis court. So who knows, it's hard to talk about past generations, future generations. I'm very happy the generation that I got to play, I really had a blast. I'm so thankful for what tennis has given me and really just the friendship after. Now that I've retired and it's not as competitive as when you're playing each other and vying for the French Open title and there is a lot on the line and it's very difficult. But bottom line is that I loved to play tennis and I still love to play tennis and everything else is really just the gravy on the top.
Q: You played against a lot of great players in your time. Who was one player that you really enjoyed playing against for some reason, and another that maybe gave you fits that you always dreaded playing against?
A: Well funny enough, it's kind of a great question, because the same players I loved playing against I really hated playing against. Part of you when you're playing the top players like Graf, Navratilova, Williams sisters, Hingis, you're so nervous because you know the match is going to be decided by one or two points. By the same time as a top player, you thrive on it, you thrive on that pressure of going out there in front of 10,000 people, final day, all eyes are on that match and the hype to it. So all the former number one players I hated playing them but at the same time I loved playing them. Because I knew they would bring the best out. So really, it's hard to think who it was because every player played such a different game style. If I played Graf I knew I would be getting a lot of slices, if I played Navratilova I knew she would be chipping and charging. But my outlook on matches was I just tried to control my game and not worry about what my opponent was doing.
Seles joining Rogers Hall of Fame[08.13.2009]
TORONTO -- The most popular player at next week's US$2-million Rogers Cup women's tennis tournament won't even be in the main draw -- and that's good news for the field.
Former world No. 1 Monica Seles will take part in an exhibition doubles match Monday night to kick off the week-long WTA Tour event. The match will coincide with her induction into the Rogers Cup Hall of Fame, a fitting honour for the only player in the modern era to win four straight Canadian titles.
"When I heard that (I was being inducted) into the Rogers Cup Hall of Fame, I right away said, `Yes, I'm coming,"' Seles, 35, said Thursday during a conference call. "What an honour for me, and what a great way to finish off my career."
Seles won 53 WTA Tour titles during her career, including nine Grand Slam championships. But few victories meant as much to Seles as her triumph at the 1995 Canadian Open in Montreal -- her first event after being stabbed in the back by a fan during an event in Hamburg, Germany more than two years earlier.
Looking like she hadn't missed a day, Seles steamrolled through the field, capping an astonishing performance with a 6-1, 6-0 rout of Amanda Coetzer in the final. Seles rode that momentum to a spot in the U.S. Open final two weeks later, where she fell in three sets to rival Steffi Graf.
Seles fondly recalls the positive reaction she received from fans at Uniprix Stadium.
"Walking down those stairs at the old stadium, I was just very nervous," Seles said. "I didn't play a match for two-and-a-half years, I didn't know what lay ahead of me.
"Just walking down to that stadium, the reception that I received, the signs, the pictures and the high-fives going to the matches . . . I said, `You know what? This feels like home. I made the right decision."'
Seles went on to win the next three Canadian championships, dropping just one set along the way. Despite falling short in her quest for a fifth championship, losing to Martina Hingis in the 1999 final, Seles still joined Violet Summerhayes (1899-1904) as the only players to win four straight Canadian titles.
"Certain places you just love, and Toronto, for me, was always one of them," said Seles, who also finished second in 1992. "It always brought out the best tennis in me."
With her powerful groundstrokes -- and audible grunts to match -- Seles helped pave the way for a new generation of players that are faster and stronger than their contemporaries. Seles believes the sport has never been healthier.
"The girls are hitting the ball very hard, they're super fit, mentally they're very strong (and) they're very hungry when they step out there," said Seles. "I really believe that women's tennis is at a fantastic time right now."
Seles also said the players have become better at managing their schedules, thereby reducing the likelihood of injury.
"This year has been really good," said Seles. "Players are much better at planning their schedules so they don't get injured as often as the last few years."
Seles saw her own career cut short due to a foot injury that still gives her trouble. But she said nothing would keep her away from Monday's exhibition, which will also feature Martina Navratilova, Serena Williams and Blainville, Que., native Aleksandra Wozniak.
"I really haven't had a chance to play much because my foot has been hurting me," said Seles. "But this last three weeks, I went into overdrive knowing I'm going to be playing (with) Serena and Aleks and Martina.
"I'm just as excited as hopefully the fans will be to see such great tennis on Monday night."
Tennis Hall of Fame Video[07.11.2009]
Seles inducted into Tennis Hall of Fame[07.11.2009]
NEWPORT, R.I. (AP) — Monica Seles is comfortable talking about her on-court stabbing 16 years ago — even on a day of celebration.
The 35-year-old Seles was enshrined in the International Tennis Hall of Fame during a ceremony on Newport's grass courts Saturday. She was the world's No. 1 women's player for 178 weeks overall and a winner of nine Grand Slam singles titles.
"I talk about it openly," she said during a news conference before being inducted. "As you can see, there's an exhibit here (about me) at the museum. When we were talking about me going into the Hall of Fame it was, 'Should we include the stabbing or not?' Unfortunately it's part of my career. I wish it wasn't. It's a long, long time ago."
It was April 30, 1993. Seles was on top of tennis, the No. 1 player, three-time defending champion of the French Open and back-to-back winner at both the U.S. and Australian Opens.
The attack shocked the sports world. Seated during a changeover at a match in Hamburg, Germany, Seles was stabbed between the shoulder blades by a crazed fan. It would be 2 1/2 years before she returned to the sport.
"Coming back in Toronto after my stabbing, I viewed my career in two phases — before stabbing and after stabbing," she said. "The reception that I got just reinforced my decision to return."
Seles went on to win that tournament — the Canadian Open — one of 53 in her career, including the 1996 Australian Open.
"She won eight grand slams before she was stabbed," said Donald Dell, also inducted Saturday. "Believe me, she would have won another nine."
Seles was enshrined in nearly a 90-minute ceremony along with master's player Andres Gimeno, the oldest player ever to win the French at 34 years, 10 months. Dr. Robert Johnson was inducted posthumously.
"I would like to thank all my tennis fans who were there from Day One when I was No. 1, through my stabbing, and my comeback," Seles, dressed in white slacks with a lavender blouse, told the crowd.
Johnson, introduced by Jeanne Ashe, wife of the late Hall of Famer Arthur Ashe, helped desegregate the sport. Dell, a U.S. Davis Cup member, later helped promote and market the sport.
Seles, playfully, gave one more grunt. "For old, good time sakes," she said.
Gimeno brought the biggest laughter from the crowd when he recalled his only major title at Roland Garros. He was introduced by 1987 Hall of Famer Stan Smith.
"I was going to leave the game without winning a big one," he said. "I think God said, 'Let the poor guy win one.'"
Seles at head of class[07.11.2009]
By Bud Collins
NEWPORT, R.I. - The tiny face peers at you from the showcase. It is a historic survivor and seems to know it, looking the worse for wear but proud of being beat up by a little girl with a big stick.
Grown to nearly 6 feet, no longer the aggressive - yet ever gracious - adversary, Monica Seles appears at the International Tennis Hall of Fame this afternoon to take her rightful place alongside the game's immortals.
Rounding out the Hall's Class of 2009 are the smooth Spanish shotmaker Andres Gimeno and contributors Donald Dell and the late Dr. Robert "Whirlwind" Johnson. Their induction precedes semifinals clashes of the Campbell's Hall of Fame Championships at The Casino, the lone grass-court stopover on the US pro circuit.
That tiny face in the Seles exhibit is a mouse sketched on a yellow tennis ball by Monica's father, Karolj, a cartoonist. "He started me in tennis, at 7, and he made it fun for me. If I didn't have fun there was no sense in playing. The faces on the balls were part of it, like Tom and Jerry. I was the cat giving them whacks."
And such whacks they were. Battering, double-barreled, powerhouse smacks. Two hands were better than one for Monica, a lefty who slugged like a switch-hitter - both hands going both ways. Few have done it, and none as productively as she, rising to No. 1 as a teenager. By the time she was 18, Monica held seven major singles titles. Nobody else has gone so far so fast.
It took a while to reach the ninth, her last. Shortly after beating Steffi Graf in the 1993 Australian Open final, Monica was felled by the infamous knifing in Hamburg. We didn't see her again for two years, when she reappeared spectacularly to win the Canadian Open, then lost a tight US Open final to Graf.
She was never quite the same, but an all-time great nonetheless. I thought she would have been the greatest.
Thoughts of the stabbing come and go, she said. "It unfortunately changed my career. When I decided to come back, I had to realize it was out of my control. It was up to me to take control. That's when I decided to play again and return to the sport I loved. I didn't want it to be taken away."
A marvelous memory for me was her first French final, 1990. Graf led, 6-2, in the first set tiebreaker only to be overwhelmed in a 6-point rush as 16-year-old Monica became the greenest champ in Paris, 7-6 (8-6), 6-4. Her majors collection was underway. Though seemingly off balance and out of position, she was perfectly coordinated, moaning and murdering tennis balls just as she had as an elementary schooler. By then, papa's cartooned faces were retired, out of her destructive reach.
Seles' journey ends fittingly - in HOF[07.10.2009]
By Bonnie D. Ford
Tennis had never seen anyone quite like Monica Seles when she charged onto the scene 20 years ago. Part beguiling kitten, part snarling she-lynx, Seles was sweet-tempered off the court and fiercely businesslike on it. With eight Grand Slam titles to her name at age 19, there was little doubt she would wind up in the International Tennis Hall of Fame someday.
Then came the 1993 stabbing incident during a changeover in Hamburg, Germany, that literally cleaved her career into two acts, and the terrible aftershock of watching her father and original coach waste away with stomach cancer. Seles walked onto center court for the 1998 French Open championship match a few weeks after his death wearing black, his ring on a chain around her neck, looking resolute but humbled, her once cherubic expression shaded with grown-up sorrow. "I don't think you are the one who deserved to lose today," opponent Arantxa Sanchez Vicario said afterward.
But Seles did not win that day. Her odyssey from the country then known as Yugoslavia, via Nick Bollettieri's Florida tennis academy, to the top of the game -- at a time when teen phenoms were still allowed to take that rocket ride -- is a storybook tale. The flip side of her journey is a very human and imperfect one.
Seles played for nine seasons after returning from the stabbing, but she absorbed other, more subtle losses out of public view, losses of control and identity. She battled depression that manifested itself in an eating disorder, painfully documented in a recent book, and said last spring that she had lived, traveled, loved and competed for years in a persistent "fog." She faded from the scene after a foot injury forced her offstage and never came back for an encore, shunning closure for almost five full years. Seles had long self-medicated with food, but as she slowly shed physical and psychological weight, she had little appetite to be feted.
Now Seles, 35, has re-emerged, looking and sounding more like the sunny girl with the lilting voice we fell for all those years ago. With her formal retirement announcement in February 2008, someday has finally arrived and Seles is set to be inducted in Newport, R.I., on Saturday. Hall of Famer and close friend Betsy Nagelsen McCormack will introduce her. It completes a circle: Seles helped induct Nagelsen McCormack's late husband, IMG founder Mark McCormack, last year.
No one -- including Seles herself -- can take measure of her accomplishments without wondering what might have been. Yet while this celebration of her career might have a wistful undertone, it's also an affirmation of survival, self-knowledge and personal growth -- qualities that can come hard to the most driven athletes.
"I have a lot of respect for Monica," said Chris Evert, whom Seles beat to win her first professional title at age 15. "What a great competitor. I marveled at how happy she seemed on and off the court, I marveled at the great relationship she had with her dad. And then with the stabbing and her father's death, her life turned upside-down.
"She's come out of it with a lot of dignity, learned some hard lessons, but has had a lot of grace throughout all these episodes. She could have won 10 more Grand Slam events. I think she got robbed, she got shortchanged in the tennis department, but it helped her personally. She grew up and found herself and became a better person because of it."
Billie Jean King knew Seles as an enthusiastic Fed Cup participant who was part of three championship teams, a naturalized American citizen (in 1994) who took enormous pleasure in competing for her adopted country when King captained the team, and later as a World Team Tennis player.
"The power," King said almost reverently of her first impression of Seles, whose two-fisted shots off both sides were effective but not easily emulated. "She used to do this thing where she'd stand close to a wall, and start hitting the ball really hard, switching sides between shots. Whap! Whap! Whap! Whap! Whap! Whap! It was amazing. I've never seen anything like it. Ask her to do it for you sometime."
In a recent conference call with reporters, Andre Agassi -- whose wife, Steffi Graf, was Seles' most formidable peer before the stabbing cruelly aborted what figured to be a top-shelf rivalry -- reflected on Seles' dual legacy.
"I grew up with Monica," Agassi said. "I've known her since she was probably 10 years old at the [Bollettieri] academy. I always marveled at her game. I marveled more at her discipline and fighting spirit. Watching her grow up and becoming one of the best ever is a great journey to go on, from my perspective.
"Really, I think we would have seen much greater things had she not had to endure what she went through in Hamburg on the court. As a result of that, I think all players are left with that aftermath. We are all aware of the exposures out there. I think security across the world [is] tending to those possibilities more, and in a sense she's made us better and she's added to all of us in our own little way.
"I know the game pretty darned well, and I would argue that she would be one of the best of all time had she continued on the path she was. She was disciplined enough and she was focused enough and she certainly had enough shots to leave that kind of mark."
The violent act that altered Seles' trajectory had many unforeseen consequences. One of the more positive ripples was the seemingly unlikely friendship she forged with an African-American man nearly 50 years her senior, who will be beaming from the audience in Newport.
Former New York City mayor David Dinkins, a tennis devotee who still plays several times a week at age 81, wrote Seles a letter following the stabbing, and later sought her out at a charity event. He became a familiar, vocal presence at Seles' U.S. Open matches. The two continue to keep in touch and dine together when schedules allow. "Monica is one of the nicest people I've ever met," said Dinkins, who teaches part-time at Columbia University. "If you're a tennis fan, you have to love Monica."
Yet Seles didn't win election to the Hall of Fame on a sympathy vote. Although she won just one more Grand Slam event after her comeback -- the 1996 Australian Open -- her credentials speak for themselves: nine Slam titles, 44 other tournament wins, twice ranked No. 1 at year's end. It's absolutely fine to feel compassion for her, as long as that never slides into pity. Seles recognizes the privileges that came with her talent and fame. She considers herself fortunate, not cursed.
"It's a great way to cap a fantastic career," Seles said of the upcoming ceremony. "More importantly, I'm just lucky I got to do something I love to do, and I'm hoping in my second life, as I call it, I can find something that I'm as passionate about as I was about tennis. It's really that simple for me."
This familiar American ritual of enshrining athletes in a brick-and-mortar pantheon is usually grounded in stats first and character second. It's true that Seles' induction has a deeper context, but that's not simply because she was wounded. It's because she showed the world how lengthy, difficult and ultimately gratifying the process of healing can be.
Seles exhibit showcases passion for game[07.09.2009]
NEWPORT - Savvy fans took advantage of the four-hour delay in the start of play Thursday to stroll through the International Tennis Hall of Fame and Museum and linger at the stunning exhibits honoring the four luminaries who will be inducted Saturday.
"Monica Seles: Pride and Passion for the Love of the Game" is a spectacular multimedia display covering the nine-time Grand Slam champion's career. Five display cases feature the spoils of her victories, and one case holds the hardware from her triumphs at the Australian Open, French Open and U.S. Open. Another displays memorabilia, among them a tennis ball with the drawing of a mouse done by her cartoonist father, Karolj, when she was a child. He encouraged her to think of herself as a cat and to whack the mouse.
The Seles exhibit takes up the entire room in the center of the museum. She offered 80 items from her personal collection and about 50 are on display. Nicole Markham, the museum curator, went to the Seles' home in Sarasota, Fla., and helped pack the items for shipment. Seles reviewed the text for the exhibit and will see it for the first time Friday or Saturday.
Posters on the wall take us through her career from her childhood hitting balls in her hometown of Novi Sad, Yugoslavia, to her run to the Orange Bowl final when she was 13, to her family's move to Sarasota, Fla., to enroll her in Nick Bollettieri's Tennis Academy and to her professional career.
Seles turned pro in 1989, when she was 15, and defeated Chris Evert in the finals at Houston. She also reached the semifinals at the French Open. In 1990 she won the first of her three French Open titles, and in 1991 was ranked No.1 in the world. By the spring of 1993 she had won three Australian, three French and two U.S. Opens.
Her career and life changed forever on April 30, 1993, when a deranged fan of Steffi Graf stabbed her in the back during a changeover at a tournament in Hamburg. Seles recovered from the wound that summer but remained off the tour for two years to recover emotionally. She came back in 1995 and reached the U.S. Open final; in 1996, she won the Australian Open again.
Karolj Seles died of stomach cancer in 1998, and Seles dedicated her French Open to him and reached the finals. She played her last French Open in 2003.
Video highlights of her career roll on a screen, and laminated cards explain the items in the display cases. One of them is her first trophy for finishing third in the Yugoslavia Juniors in 1983. She was 9 years old.
Hall of Fame induction ceremonies will start Saturday at 12:30. Catch the exhibit first, if you can.
Interview: Monica Seles[07.05.2009]
There is another interview with Monica Seles I could imagine having written. That's the one in which, with the French Open playing on the TV in the background in her hotel room in Florida, we talked about the fact that she was the greatest female tennis player ever to pick up a racket; about the 20 grand slam titles she won before she bowed out of the game, eclipsing Martina Navratilova's record. The one in which she described how she finally mastered Wimbledon, and could look back on her dominating rivalry with Steffi Graf who, beaten by her nemesis, never quite fulfilled her early promise. But that is not this interview ...
This one dwells on the way that the life that Seles seemed to have ready and waiting for her - eight grand slam victories in her teens - ended violently in April 1993 when she was 19 and a deranged Graf fan ran on to the court at a tournament in Hamburg and stabbed her in the back with a nine-inch kitchen knife, changing her script for ever.
We are in Florida, and the French Open semi-final is playing in the background, but our talk is not of titles won and lost, of epic victories and narrow defeats - it is of the psychological trauma of that defining violent event, and of the decade of disappointment and despair that followed. A decade in which Seles looked everywhere for comfort, "always searching for the key to getting my old life back", and found that comfort primarily in food, an obsession which brought with it many more problems.
Seles is 35, taller than you'd imagine from watching her on court, and much slimmer than in her later playing days. Her voice is still inflected with the giggly girlishness of the tennis prodigy, which makes what she has to say all the more poignant. She drinks black coffee and buzzes determinedly between subjects, just as she once used to chase down every lost cause on court. She has been retired now for five years; she lives alone in Tampa Bay with her four dogs, and she resolutely refuses to deal in "what ifs?" - "I would have gone crazy a long while ago," she says, "if I had done that." She would rather dwell on what she sees as the greatest victory of her life, the one she savours above all others - her triumph over her destructive eating habits and her weight, which is shorthand for her triumph over all of her demons.
She has written a book detailing that long campaign, Getting a Grip. It is a self-help manual and a sports autobiography, a "misery memoir" and the best kind of diet book (one that does not tell you what to eat, but how to live). From the perspective of her retirement Seles unravels all the extremes of her career, extremes that led her close to insanity. At the heart of it is a tale of lost innocence. What once seemed so natural to Seles - her life, her game - became, after the violence that interrupted her, something that she felt she had to make up as she went along.
"I knew I was a tennis player," she writes, by way of introduction, "I knew I used to dominate the sport, and I knew I used to be a happy person, but for 10 years those identities eluded me." She hopes and believes that the ways in which she put her self back together will have a universal application - and she proves the point as soon as she sits down by reading quickly from an emotional email she has just received from a young woman in Italy, a doctor who has been fighting all her life with an eating disorder after a childhood trauma. Seles has been the doctor's inspiration. "I'm always a bit wary of getting involved in fan letters," Seles says, "but this one I will."
The lives of all professional tennis players are about focus, a narrowing down of the field of vision to a simple moving target that must be hit, and lines that must not be crossed. Invariably that focus begins very early (Andre Agassi's father hung a tennis ball above his baby son's cot and let him bat it around all day to improve his hand-eye coordination). Monica Seles was once the most focused five-year-old anyone had ever seen. Her story began, as nearly all tennis stories begin, with her watching her father. One morning on a family holiday on the Adriatic, Seles observed her father and her brother carefully packing a bag with tennis rackets. When she asked where they were going, her brother Zoltan answered: "To play tennis." Seles recalls, she says, hearing only the word "play" from that sentence. It sounded like fun. Could she come and play too?
She never, for many years after that moment, really stopped playing, though it quickly ceased to be anything resembling fun. The Seles family lived in Novi Sad, in Serbian Yugoslavia. Monica's father was a political cartoonist for various newspapers, but in his youth he had been a top athlete, a nationally ranked triple jumper who used to compete barefoot. He regretted that he had not been able to pursue his athletic career and was determined that his children should not have the same regrets. By the time Monica started playing, her brother Zoltan was the top-ranked junior in the country and competing with the young Boris Becker and Stefan Edberg in European events. She quickly developed the ambition of beating him, though he was eight years her senior.
Her father, she says, did not push her, but he did not discourage her either. There were arguments at home - her grandmother and mother would say that it was not natural for a girl to play so much tennis, not ladylike - but neither her father nor Monica would listen. "My dad," she says, "as an artist, was aware of the dangers of too much structure; in particular he was very keen that I should not lose my childish imagination when I was playing." Practice was built around make-believe. Monica was a great lover of TV cartoons, so her father would draw the face of Jerry the mouse on every tennis ball and Monica would be Tom, trying to whack him with her racket as he escaped. She would do this for many hours at a time. They lived in a flat, and children were not allowed at the local tennis club - even children as gifted as Seles - so her father strung a net between two cars in the car park next to their block for Monica to play there, hitting balls into boxes at the court's corners. Sometimes her father would break off from his drawing board and shout down from their third-floor window to ask how she was doing. A hundred or 200 accurate balls into boxes, and she would come in for her supper.
Seles looks back on this as a golden time. The only fears in her life were those that attended losing. I've talked to a few tennis champions over the years - McEnroe, Borg, Agassi, Federer - and though immensely different in character, they were united by one thing: an overwhelming fear of the pain of defeat. It was always that, more than any desire for glory, that drove them on when they were young. Seles, too, was full of that feeling. She recently came across a photograph of herself, she says, aged seven. She had come third in a tournament for girls much older than her, but her face was set in a mask of pure self-loathing. She could not bear it.
By the time she was 13, Seles was the top-ranked under-18 player in the world. She had been spotted the year before at a tournament in the States by the legendary coach Nick Bolletieri and invited to join his academy in Florida. She moved originally with her brother, and later the whole family joined her. Before she went, she knew nothing of the world of tennis. The only match that was shown on TV in Yugoslavia was the French Open final - "Even at 11," she says, "I had the feeling that the only two tennis players in the world were Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova, and they played this one match against each other every year." Her father had encouraged her to just play every point as though it was her last, without thinking of anything else. She was, she says, ignorant of the scoring system in tennis long after she arrived at Bolletieri's school. Even among the single-minded generation there, she was something of a phenomenon. The future world number one, Jim Courier, refused to hit balls with her after one occasion when she had him chasing around the court's four corners in the afternoon sun.
She recalls it now, though, as the beginning of some of her insecurity. "I left my parents and all my friends at 13. It's an age when you are very unsure of your body and everything. I was allowed to call home once a month. I thought I spoke English but when I got to America I realised I didn't really. I had, like, 20 words. I was on scholarship. The other girls could afford to pay to be there, had everything, but I was the only female that was really good. I was very shy. And at the end of the day you are a kid."
Bolletieri spoke of her at the time as the brightest prospect he had ever seen. "She will not accept that she can't do something," he said, "and she'll spend 40, 50, 70 hours working just to get one shot. I used to tell her: 'Your boyfriend is your Prince ball machine', she spent so much time with the thing. You can't yell at her, and she's stubborn; you have to do a lot of proving if she doesn't agree with you. But I find it very difficult to pick out any weakness in her or her game."
Her weaknesses were perhaps, however, beginning to show off court. At the same time as Bolletieri was singing her praises, Seles was suggesting to the New York Times: "As long as I love it, I'll keep playing. Plus I'm still making straight As at school, as always. So now I just worry about my cholesterol. I don't like salads: I like the strong food."
None of this anxiety showed on court at the time, however. Seles says she never really thought of herself as having the capacity to be a great player until she beat Steffi Graf in the final of the French Open in 1990 when she was 16 (Graf was five years her senior). After that initial victory over Graf she hardly looked back. I remember watching her then; it was like seeing someone who had rethought the rules of women's tennis; she was so aggressive in her play, and so enclosed in her concentration, it seemed like nothing could get in her way.
For three years, little did. She won practically everything (except Wimbledon), but then the moment came that changed everything. In 1993, she had a realistic chance of winning all four grand slams. She was the Australian champion, and Paris was on the horizon. But as she was sitting with her back to the crowd at a changeover between games at a tournament in Hamburg, Gunther Parche, a 38-year-old who had stalked Steffi Graf for years and hated the fact that Seles had "stolen" the German's number one ranking, changed tennis history by attacking her with a knife.
Seles can talk about the stabbing now, but she does not like to dwell on it too much "because it takes me back to a very dark place in my life". The shock was one thing to cope with, and the physical damage to her shoulder was another - a centimetre to the left and she would have been paralysed for life. But really, she says, none of that was the worst of it: the hardest thing to cope with was the fact that the life she had put all her faith in had disappeared in an instant.
Looking back, Seles suggests, her peak years in tennis would likely have been between the ages of 19 and 22. As it turned out, she hardly picked up a racket at all in that time. The nightmare of her assault deepened almost immediately when she discovered as she lay in hospital that her beloved father had been diagnosed with terminal stomach cancer - he had missed the tournament in Hamburg in order to have tests. For her, the news and the timing could not have been worse. Her dad was her mentor and her best friend; it was to him that she would have turned to express her deepest fears about the horror of what she had experienced. But, she says, "I didn't want to pile other worries on him - he had enough to think about."
Lying in her hospital bed Seles also received a very brutal lesson about the world of tennis. "In terms of the game itself," she says, "it was like the stabbing never occurred. One problem was that it happened in Germany and was 'because' of a German player. The German federation decided to continue the tournament as if nothing had happened, and everyone else seemed to follow on from that."
Graf came to see Seles in hospital "for a minute or two" but there wasn't much to say: they had always been rivals rather than friends. "It was one of those things," she says now, "but it felt like everyone benefited from the stabbing except me." The players were asked to vote on whether, in respect of the unique circumstances, Seles's number one ranking should be retained until more was known about her condition. They voted unanimously against that idea (with one abstention: Gabriela Sabatini), and so everyone moved up a notch and the waters closed over the head of the recuperating champion. "They just wanted me to go away, it felt like," she says. "I was 19 years old. Their money was tied up to the ranking system, and that was obviously an issue..."
Gunther Parche also haunted Seles. He eventually stood trial on a charge of wounding rather than attempted murder, and though he admitted the attack had been premeditated he escaped a prison sentence after psychological reports. "The trial kept going on and on," Seles recalls. "One trial after another. Later I tried to sue the German Tennis Federation for lack of security and lost income, and I lost those cases, too. It was hard to cope with the fact that the guy was not even sent to prison. It did not feel like justice to me."
Every time Seles tried to walk on a tennis court, as her injuries healed, she found she couldn't face it and turned around. "I had grown up on a tennis court - it was where I felt most safe, most secure - and that day in Hamburg everything was taken away from me. My innocence. My rankings, all my income, endorsements - they were all cancelled. And the one person who could have comforted me really, who understood what it meant, my father, was of course facing this awful illness."
Seles started eating. She had always enjoyed her food, never had to be told to clear her plate as a child, and now she did that, and more so. "And of course a plate of food in Florida is bigger than one in Europe." After seeing her father go through chemotherapy and be unable to eat, after putting herself through Olympian fitness regimes in order to get back to playing, she would return at night to the fridge. "Potato chips were my downfall," she says now, with a smile. "Just as I had been a champion tennis player, now I became a champion potato-chip eater." On her 21st birthday, when she might have had the world at her feet, she stayed at home with a bag of cookies, and cried.
"The thing was," she says, "when I thought of coming back I had no idea how I would feel sitting back down on the chair, knowing the person who had stabbed me had never been put in jail. There were so many ifs. In the end though, after two and a half years, I felt I just had to try. I came back in Toronto and the fans' support was just amazing. I won that first tournament back, and that helped. It was like: 'I am still pretty good at this.'"
In some ways though, her problems were only starting. She had worked hard to get into shape for that tournament, but even then she was nothing like the weight she had been at 19. It was then she started to hear the voices.
"I remember coming back to play Martina in an exhibition before the Toronto event and I was maybe 25lb heavier than I had been," she recalls. "And I could hear the comments: 'Oh my God! What happened to Seles? Did you see how big she was?' I mean, I had been nearly stabbed to death. I had been out of the game for two years. My father was extremely sick. I was no longer a teenager. I turned to food for comfort. What did they expect?"
In some ways Seles was prepared for the scrutiny. She had suffered some of it before the stabbing, particularly on one occasion when she had cut her hair into a new style as part of an endorsement deal for a haircare company.
"I went to my first tournament with this new hair and this woman comes up to me. I'd never met her and she said: 'What happened to you - you look like a boy, you look terrible!'"
The new hair had coincided with the controversy surrounding her "grunting" as she hit the ball on court. "Suddenly I was this aggressive boy grunting away." Seles says she was never really aware of her grunting before the media picked up on it, though she had done it since she was a child. Things had come to a head at Wimbledon in 1992, when the papers made a controversy about the noise she made and the players started to complain - notably Martina Navratilova, who lost to Seles in the semi-final.
"I had grunted against those players countless times," she says now. "Nobody ever told me to do it or not to do it. But going into that tournament I had lost one match all year. I think it was a purely a mental tactic, by Martina and others. You always look for something. With me I didn't have a crazy father, I didn't have a crazy personal life, there was just this grunting, so they went for that."
Seles believes the controversy got to her. "It was on my mind a little in the final and I lost to Graf. I grew up a lot that day. And I decided never again would I listen to what people say. If they made grunting against the rules, then I would have to think about it, but otherwise I would do whatever helped me to play my best."
Some of those doubts went through Seles's mind again when she heard people commenting about her weight on her return to the game, but she tried to banish them. It was not easy. "My generation was the last when you were marketed really as a tennis player - Graf, Hingis. But when Anna Kournikova came along, there was this whole other thing - suddenly it was all about looks. Tennis is pretty unforgiving if you are carrying weight. You are expected to wear short skirts, and you are compared to all these 16- and 17-year-olds. Nobody needed to tell me - I only had to look in the mirror or try on my clothes. I tried so hard to lose weight. Every year began with a resolution - I would wake up in the morning thinking about my size, and go to bed at night staring at the ceiling, hungry. I tried this fad diet or that and I lost the weight and then two months later I would gain it back again and more."
Seles won one more major title, the Australian Open in 1996, but though she still wanted to win as much as ever, she could not stop eating long enough to allow her to do so.
Wimbledon was always the lowest point of her year, she says. "I would have played the week before at Eastbourne, where it always rained every day, so there was nothing to do but watch the rain and eat. There was the pressure of playing on grass, which was not my favourite surface, and worse, the British press, which would always be on to me, first about my grunting then about my size." The stress made her compulsion worse.
"There would be pictures of 'Monica's spare tyre' - that would be the headline. I dreaded those fortnights. My heaviest ever was 1997 Wimbledon: my father was very sick, the outfit I had to wear that year didn't help, I was 35lb overweight. You cannot carry that around a grass court. I was reading the articles before I went on court. And then if a player hit a drop shot or something I'd be thinking: 'If I was skinnier I'd have got that ball' and 'Did she do that because of my size?'"
The cycle of seeing her picture in the papers and being alone with room service and a mini-bar did not help. "The British press was so unbelievably cruel. And then at press conferences I would have to sit there while these guys who had written about how fat I was asked me questions. And you know sports writers are not necessarily in the best shape themselves. These enormous guys, asking me if I could be in better shape - I mean, look at yourself in the mirror! Don't be so brutal!"
Seles can laugh about it now, but at the time it was never a joke. She found it hard anyway to form relationships as a tennis player always on the road, but her problems with eating made it all the harder. She recounts some horrific tales in the book of romances that went wrong when her boyfriends took it upon themselves to comment on her size. One, in league with her fitness trainer, promised he would take her out for dinner if she won the Italian Open. She followed her diet all week on that promise, won the tournament, but then her date still voiced his disapproval as she tucked into her tiramisu. Another boyfriend had a habit of pinching at the spare flesh on her midriff and suggesting she needed to watch it.
"A guy would always end up mentioning my weight in some form or other," she says. "They knew they should not go there; it was too painful for me. But they always did. It seemed so simple for them: stop eating, win grand slams, be happy." But Seles knew it wasn't so simple, and that it wasn't just about food.
The question I've been wanting to ask her all through our conversation is whether she believes she would have encountered these problems had it not been for the stabbing. Does she think there was something in her obsessional focus as a young girl that would always have found an outlet in this kind of neurosis? After all, other comparable prodigies - Jennifer Capriati, Martina Hingis- had their share of angst.
She is not sure. "These days I am a great believer in keeping things in balance," she says. "I was paying for that imbalance in my childhood maybe, who knows? Women I have talked to who have a similar problem with food say it is all about control. For me it was the opposite. Food was the one area of my life that was out of control. Everything else was looked after for me. How I did my workouts, what time I went to bed, everything. I had this mental strength on court, but off it I could not win."
Seles kept most of this to herself. She never talked much about how she felt after the stabbing, or about her grief for her father who died in 1998, or about the life she had lost. Instead of therapists she turned to fitness gurus. One month she would have Carl Lewis's trainer, the next Oprah Winfrey's. But the harder she trained the harder she ate: "seven-hour workouts would be followed by 5,000-calorie binges". In the end, as her book details, she had to find out the answer for herself.
It was a series of injuries that started her off - problems with the straining of feet and ankles that eventually brought a premature end to her career. In a period of enforced rest she took a holiday, to "celebrate" turning 30. To start with she read (again) every nutritional book on her shelf - injury invariably led to more weight problems. But this time, for once, she decided to do it differently: she would forget about diets and regimes, she would just try to relax. She booked herself into an eco lodge in Costa Rica, turned off her phone, forgot about tennis and might have beens, did some yoga, took long walks, and for the first time in a decade found herself, to her surprise, wanting to eat fruit rather than "dreaded carbs".
When she got home she went through all of her photographs and clippings, relived every high and low of her life, and started to mourn not for her career but for her father. It was as if a light had come on. So deep had the idea of "no pain no gain" been ingrained in her that for a time the gentler regime she allowed herself in the weeks that followed seemed unnatural. She walked instead of running and "on those walks I slowly and sadly came to terms with my life. I lost my dad way too early and it was agonisingly awful. I missed him so much and I hated knowing that I could never again pick up the phone to tell him about my day".
Seles came to realise that food had been her way of deflecting that pain; the grief that had cruelly coincided with her traumatic loss of innocence on court. She had kept it all in, she believed, but now she could see it for what it was. It was too late for her to go back to playing - her ankles saw to that, but she did begin to find a way to do that most difficult thing for ex-champions - to find a way to live outside the lines of the court. Money was not a problem - she had earned nearly $15 million on court alone (though, of course, without the interruption of her career, she may well have doubled or tripled that figure), but a sense of purpose was. Seles needed to defeat what she saw as the "toughest opponent of her career - her weight - once and for all".
She kept walking. She started to be honest with herself about what she was eating. She stopped punishing herself for what she could not do. The walking put her back in touch with the sense of how her body had once been her ally, had done anything she wanted it to. Her father had always helped her find a way of beating any opponent, and now she could see a way of beating this one. She stopped worrying about the grand slams she had never won, and she started to be proud of those she had. The mystery about her eating was that there was no mystery.
"Once I became honest about what was really go on in my head and with my emotions, then I could see a way through it," she says. "My mistake was to think there was an easy fix, a miracle diet. If I could sort out my weight, then everything would be all right again. I had it the wrong way round. It was not about what I was eating, but about what was eating me." It wasn't easy - it has taken all of the five years of her retirement for Seles to feel like she can face the world, but one thing she has been been used to is playing the long game. And like any great champion, she could always find a way to win.
Monica Seles goes beyond grunting[06.09.2009]
Roger Federer's French Open victory was the big news in the tennis world this weekend, but local fans who couldn't be at Roland Garros got their own brush with tennis greatness Saturday when Monica Seles made an appearance at Five Seasons Sports Club in Northbrook. Seles made a promotional appearance for the Handzel Open, an amateur tournament with a $1,200 top prize.
She wowed fans by hitting with some of the area's top junior players, but most people missed the real highlight: Monica Seles blowing raspberries at a sobbing toddler during an awkward photo shoot. Shortly after her on-court demonstration, Seles was ushered off for a Gift From the Heart Foundation publicity photo with a severely disabled boy. The foundation, which provides medical treatment for seriously ill and disabled children from Poland and Eastern Europe, is the beneficiary of this year's Handzel Open. Surrounded by an entourage and covered in charity paraphernalia, the boy opened his mouth, scrunched up his eyes and let out a silent wail…followed by loud, hysterical crying. Seles was the first to respond, saying the crowds were scaring him and that they should give him some space. She then, adorably, scrunched down in front of him and started making goofy raspberry noises. It was a far cry from the grunting noises she's famous for, but the touching moment proved that even after retirement, she's still got game.
Rogers Cup Exhibition[05.05.2009]
Opening night of the 2009 Rogers Cup in Toronto will be highlighted by a special exhibition featuring legendary tennis heroes Monica Seles and Martina Navratilova. The duo will be joined by two current stars on the Sony Ericcson WTA Tour, Serena Williams and top ranked Canadian Aleksandra Wozniak. The star-studded event will include a doubles match, follwed by an induction ceremony for the Rogers Cup Hall of Fame and first round WTA Tour singles action. (More Information]
Monica Seles Radio Interview[04.20.2009]
Part One - Part Two
Excerpt: 'Getting A Grip'
by Monica Seles
Most professional athletes can remember the exact moment they were introduced to the sport that would be their destiny. For me, that day started with the smell of salt water tickling my nose. As we did every summer, my family was spending our vacation by the Adriatic Sea, and in the mornings a breeze would blow through the bedroom window and gently wake me up. Hanging at the beach for a precious two weeks a year was practically mandatory for European families, and we were no exception. Every August, we'd pack up the car and head to the coast. Two weeks of sun, sand, and surf. It was heaven. The summer I remember the best from those lazy seaside days was when I was five years old. I was a little pipsqueak of a girl who never stopped moving. Buzz, buzz, buzzing around all day long. It used to drive my family crazy. One morning I got up, threw on my swimsuit, quickly ate breakfast at my mother's insistence, and was dashing out the door as fast as my legs could carry me. As always, I'd planned on spending the day on the beach building intricate sand castles with moats to protect the princesses I imagined resided inside and the handful of crabs I recruited to act as their guards. But something grabbed my attention before I could make a run for the beach. It was my dad packing up a bag with cool-looking toys.
"Where are you going?" I asked.
"To play tennis," my brother, Zoltan, answered. He had a bag too.
"Can I come?" I'd already forgotten about the castles waiting to be built outside. All I heard was the word "play" and I didn't want to be left out of any fun.
"Of course you can come," my dad said, smiling. "Go put on your shoes and we'll meet you outside." I tore into my bedroom frantically searching for my sneakers. My mom found them for me and helped tie the laces nice and tight.
"Have fun," she told me, kissing my forehead and whisking me out the door, happy to have a little peace and quiet for herself. It didn't happen often. My mother, Ester, worked long hours in an accounting firm and whipped up three homemade meals a day for our family, and those two weeks were the only time she had to relax. As a five-year-old, I didn't understand what it meant to need a vacation, but I'm sure my mom did. I ran outside and caught up to my brother and dad. We walked down three different streets until we got to the local court. Jumping around like my shoes were on fire, I couldn't wait to get started. Started at what, I had no idea, but I knew something fun was about to happen. My dad and Zoltan unsheathed their rackets and started hitting a ball back and forth. It seemed to go on forever. I was getting bored sitting there; I had thought this was going to be a lot more fun. When my brother put down his racket to get a drink of water, I took advantage of my chance. I ran over, picked it up, and started imitating what I'd seen him do.
"Good, Monica!" my dad called to me from the other side of the net.
He hit a ball my way. I'd like to say that I fired a two-handed crosscourt backhand from the baseline. I'd like to say that in that split second a star was born. But I can't. I missed the first ball. And the second, and the third. Zoltan, showing an amount of restraint and patience that is unusual in thirteen-year-old brothers, let me go on like that, swinging his racket wildly as I ran back and forth across the court not making contact with anything. But my dad noticed something right away. The racket was nearly as big as I was but I was handling it as though it weighed nothing.
My swing wasn't sending any balls over the net, but the form wasn't half bad. We played all afternoon, Zoltan and I taking turns with the racket, and I never got tired. Some sports prodigies are born with superb hand-eye coordination, abnormally flexible shoulder joints, or extremely efficient red blood cells. Me? I just had freakishly strong wrists. Years later, my dad would insist it was because, as a toddler, I walked around our apartment carrying his four-kilogram dumbbells every where I went. I don't remember for sure, so I'll have to take his word for it. The three of us spent the rest of our vacation at the tennis court together. When we got home from the Adriatic, I begged my dad to keep playing tennis with me. While Zoltan was an active player in European junior tournaments, my dad had only hit around a couple of times in his life. He played more during that vacation than he ever had before. But he had a hard time saying no to me, so he figured out a way to make it happen. Our hometown of Novi Sad — a medium-size city nestled on the banks of the river Danube — had only four courts, and kids weren't allowed on them until they were twelve years old. The tennis club had an elitist attitude that could have rivaled Wimbledon's Centre Court. There was a mandatory dress code of all white, and it was difficult to secure a court time, nearly impossible to find the financial means to pay for it. It was a far cry from the everyman sport of soccer, the most popular sport in my country, where all you needed was a ball, a patch of grass, and the will to run.
"No problem," my dad told me after the club would not let a five-year old play on its courts. He took a ball of string down to the parking lot in front of our apartment building, cut a long piece off, and tied the ends to cars placed about ten feet apart. Voilà! We had our own private, free, always available court where dress whites were optional. I devoted every afternoon to playing in that parking lot. After a month my dad saw I was serious about it — and that Zoltan's patience with loaning out his rackets was growing thin — so one weekend he got in the car and drove seven hours until he crossed the Italian border, where the closest equipment store with child-size rackets could be found. He'd done the exact same thing for Zoltan seven years earlier, so he knew the drill. He picked out the best one he could find, had it wrapped up, jumped in the car, and drove straight back home the same day. I was thrilled with my new racket and carried it with me every where. My dad and I continued to play every single evening, staying outside until my mom called us in for dinner. Even then we'd stay outside a little longer until she'd call us a second time. Then we knew she was serious. We didn't dare test her a third. Over dinner Zoltan would tell us about his upcoming tournaments and I'd hang on his every word. I loved tennis with every bit of my heart.
Monica Seles on Good Morning America[04.20.2009]
Monica Seles Call In TV Interview[04.19.2009]
Monica Seles: Tennis Star's Off-Court Battle With Depression, Food Addiction[04.15.2009]
Nine-time grand slam champion Monica Seles once ruled women's tennis.
The famous tennis player spiraled into depression after being stabbed.
At 16, Seles became the youngest woman ever to win the French Open and in a two-year stretch, she won seven out of nine grand slam tennis championships. Many thought she was destined to be the best women's tennis player in history.
But her career came to a screeching halt on April 30, 1993, when she was stabbed by a deranged fan during a break in a match in Germany . Now, Seles has chronicled her long journey back in her new memoir, "Getting A Grip: On My Body, My Mind, My Self."
"I was just sitting down and leaning forward, and that's when I suddenly just like… I felt a sharp pain in my back," she said. "And I… I looked back and… and I saw a person, you know, having his hand and a knife, and then, 'Oh my, this guy put a knife in my back.'"
The German, a fan of Seles' chief rival, Steffi Graf, wound up being sentenced to two years on probation.
Seles Stripped From No. 1 Ranking
It would take longer than that for a traumatized Seles to return to tennis. While she was recuperating at her home in Florida, fellow players voted to strip her of the No. 1 ranking. That shifted millions in endorsement dollars from Seles' pockets to theirs. Seles was disappointed in her fellow players' decision.
"Tennis is a business. So, you know, it's cutthroat as anything, because you're playing in the world stage and anything can go."
Chris Evert remembers when Seles lost her ranking. "She was on the top of the world, and then she was in the gutter after that."
Family Illness, Food Addiction and Depression
What Seles has never spoken about before is what happened during those years after the stabbing.
Shortly after the attack, and the subsequent loss of her ranking, her beloved father was diagnosed with cancer. The emotional stress from all of these events took their toll, sending Seles into a tailspin of depression and a corresponding addiction to food. In her new book, she candidly describes that struggle with food.
"I ate pasta, burgers, potato chips, late night runs to Taco Bell; I'd lose myself in the cookie and cracker aisle. I'd load up with Oreos, Pop-Tarts, pretzels and barbecue potato chips," she wrote.
Despite the 40 pounds she had gained, Seles tried to mount a comeback two-and-a-half years after the stabbing. At Seles' first match after her long absence, the crowd gave her a standing ovation.
"The amount of support that I felt that first-round match when I walked out there was just amazing," she said.
Through sheer will, she battled back to the top five in the rankings, all the while trying to hide food binges from her coaches and even from her family. She says she'd sneak off and gorge herself in cities around the world.
"Food was my friend," she said.
She desperately tried to hide her weight in loose-fitting clothes. But fans and the press took notice. British newspapers chided her about "oversized servings" and said she looked like a "sumo wrestler" and a "hag with a frying pan."
She said the criticism about her looks was hard to take.
"I just realized the time I was away from the sport, a new generation was coming up. And the generation was taller, much stronger, much more powerful, and obviously a lot more attractive," she said. "It wasn't enough to play good anymore, you had to look good, too."
It was then that she realized she needed help to deal with the emotions she had been running from.
"For me, it was obviously dealing with my father's death, my stabbing, my own identity," she said.
Playing an Aggressive Game
Women tennis players these days, like Serena and Venus Williams are known for their power game. But when Seles first hit the court, there was no one like her.
At just 9 years old she won the junior Yugoslavian championship. When she crossed the Atlantic, Evert was one of the first to fall.
"She beat me when she was 15," Evert said. "I remember playing her and it went three sets and she just was so aggressive, taking everything early and grunting and I'd never seen a player like that. I'd never seen anybody play like that in my life."
"I think I was the first female power player. I played a very aggressive game," Seles said.
She hit the ball harder and faster and louder than anyone before her. Frustrated rivals even stopped some matches to complain about her infamous grunts. Seles says she was ridiculed in the press for her noises on the court.
"It's hard when you open up the papers in England and you're on the front page, and they have a grunt-o-meter, and say 'Seles Screams' or some not so nice headlines about my grunt," she said.
Regardless of the ridicule, at 17, Seles became the youngest top-ranked woman ever -- an honor that brought millions in endorsements.
Working Off the Extra Pounds
She told "20/20" it took extensive therapy to finally address the pain she'd tried to smother with food, and she learned she needed to find an identity beyond tennis and to simply have some fun. So she traveled, went skydiving and swam in a shark cage.
She even went into rigorous training of another sort -- preparing for a shot on ABC's "Dancing With The Stars." Seles may have been the first eliminated that season but even she thought she looked good.
Over the years, she says, the extra pounds have slowly disappeared. "It was definitely not easy," she said. "And it was baby steps."
Seles has been able to keep her weight steady for two years. Her time now is filled with extensive charity work for causes involving needy youngsters and abandoned pets.
She quietly retired from tennis in 2008. One sportswriter said she left as one of the most adored figures in the game's history. And Seles says despite everything she's been through, she's happy with her life.
"The 'what ifs,' they are there. But I think the difficult years made me who I am today," she said. "And I think I'm a much happier person than I used to be."
Jon Wertheim's Mailbag[04.15.2009]
Seles reflects on her HOF career
By Monica Seles
(Jon Wertheim is on vacation this week but we have an esteemed fill-in on the mailbag: Monica Seles. If you think she's thoughtful and candid in this space, you'll want to check out her new book, Getting A Grip.)
Of all your wins, which one meant the most to you?
And conversely, which loss was the toughest to swallow?
-- Tom Quicksell, Philadelphia
The win that meant the most to me was the first Grand Slam, in 1990 at the French Open. Until that match [against Steffi Graf], I knew I had the possibility of maybe winning a Grand Slam but I never expected to win at such a young age . The most difficult loss was the 1992 Wimbledon final [against Graf]. That was the only time I got to the finals of Wimbledon. And even though I never played my best tennis on grass, I very much enjoyed playing there despite the loss.
What do you consider to be your greatest wins? I vote
for your 1990 defeat of Martina Navratilova in Rome, 6-1, 6-1, and your
1993 defeat of Steffi Graf in Australia. With the level of your game in
1991, '92 and early '93, did you feel invincible?
-- Omar Gonzalez, West Covina, Calif.
I did play some of my best tennis when I beat Martina in Rome and Steffi in the 1993 Australian Open final. When I look back at the level of tennis I was playing in the early '90s, sometimes it amazes even me!
Serena Williams, after winning the Australian Open in
2007, said she holds you in extremely high regard. What do you feel
about the Williams sisters and their mentality on the court? Over their
careers, they seem to attack tennis balls with a similar kind of
ferocity and mental toughness that you showed when you played on the
tour. (Thank you!)
-- Andrew Miller, Cambridge, Mass.
Since I retired, I very much enjoy watching Serena Williams play. While I was playing, she was one of the toughest players I ever faced. Her ground strokes are so solid, her serve is one of the most powerful in women's tennis, and mentally she is just so strong. As you will read in my book, I played her when she was 16. When I lost to her, I had the feeling that the new generation was coming and she is going to be one of the best of it.
As a fellow two-hands-off-both-sides player who has
been so influenced and inspired by your career, I would like to know if
you have any plans to coach? Perhaps through the Monica Seles Tennis
Academy? What are your plans post-Hall of Fame induction?
-- Ron G., New York, N.Y.
I am very happy that I have inspired another two-hander on both sides! As you know, playing two hands on both sides allows you to create some incredible angles that definitely paid off during my tennis career! At the moment, I have no plans to open a tennis academy, but I am very excited about my Hall of Fame induction. It is a great honor for me.
When looking back at your milestone matches, where do
you place your five-set victory over Gabriela Sabatini in the 1990
Virginia Slims Championships final?
-- Stephen Males, Bermuda
That was the only five-set match I ever played in my career and I remember that I loved it. Playing Gabi always brought out the best in my game.
Do you watch tennis on TV just for fun? Which players
do you like to watch?
-- Bobby, Chicago
Yes, I do. I very much enjoy watching Serena, Venus Williams, Jelena Jankovic, Ana Ivanovic and Amelie Mauresmo. I also enjoy watching men's tennis. Like everyone (I hope!), I thought last year's Wimbledon final between Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer was the best tennis I have ever seen.
Which match makes you smile the most from pride of
winning, smile the most from giving it your all but coming up short,
and which match makes you burn wishing you could play it over?
-- Mike Moore, Wilton Manors, Fla.
I think the match I look back on with a smile, even though I lost, was my 1998 French Open final, since just two weeks before my dad passed away and I had a lot of emotions going on inside of me. I would like to play my 1992 Wimbledon final versus Steffi Graf again. There was so much media attention over my grunting (I stopped grunting for this match only) instead of my playing and I got caught up in it. If I could play that match over again, I would have kept true to my style and played the way I was used to playing.
What did your father teach you about angles?
-- Kathy, Michigan
As I was writing my book, I realized what a unique relationship my father and I had. He always made sure that tennis was fun for me. He taught me by drawing Jerry (from Tom and Jerry) on the tennis ball and I had to be Tom, and in order to catch him I had to hit the ball on the rise, which created those great angles.
Book Excerpt: 'Getting A Grip: On My Body, My Mind, My Self'[04.15.2009]
Former number-one world professional tennis player Monica Seles shares her personal journey, battling depression and coming into her own after a career on the court. This excerpt from "Getting A Grip: On My Body, My Mind, My Self" was provided by the publisher to ABC News. Her book will be released on April 21.
Chapter 1: Blasting Through the Comfort Zone
For twenty-eight years, I was known as a tennis player. It had been a long time since I played a professional match, but the thought of giving up the security of that label had terrified me. Tennis player. A short, easy description that everyone is familiar with. It's who I was to the outside world and it's what I'd been calling myself for as long as I could remember. But it was time to move forward. I was ready to leave the past behind.
On February 14, 2008, I announced my official retirement from tennis. I'd been playing in exhibitions here and there, but I was tired of waking up every morning wondering if today was the day my foot was going to self-destruct again. When it felt good, I could play the way I had when I was at the top of my game, but when it felt bad, I couldn't walk on it. I spent years debating back and forth in my head whether I had it in me to make another run for the top. I didn't want to do it anymore. I was tired of the debate. I waited so long to make it official because I wanted to be absolutely sure it was the right decision. I wanted it to be on my timetable and I wanted to claim complete ownership over the choice to close that chapter of my life. All the what-ifs about whether I could regain my former glory and win another Grand Slam began to fade away. My life was filling up with things other than tennis; I was feeling more content than ever before and the fear had left me. It took a long time to get to this point, but I knew that I didn't need tennis to define who I was anymore.
At the time of the announcement, I didn't think twice about the date. It just happened to be when my agent, Tony Godsick, released the statement. But it's funny that on a day reserved for lovers, I declared my relationship with professional tennis to be over.
Somebody once told me that tennis is your husband, your boyfriend, your fiancé, and your best friend all rolled into one. It takes up every second of your time, every ounce of your energy, and every thought in your head. It had also been my adolescence, my education, my entry into adulthood, and my ticket to see the world. It had been my entire life and had tested me on every possible level. Somehow I'd come out the other side in one piece. Even better than one piece: I'd come out whole and healthy and strong. While staying out of the public eye, I'd been able to rebuild and fortify my core and I decided to put it to the ultimate test: ballroom dancing in front of millions of people. If I was going to test my newfound inner strength, what better way to do it than by risking total and complete public humiliation on reality television? Dancing with the Stars was my mom's favorite program, so when the opportunity arose to be on it, I gave it some serious thought. I had several strikes against me: two left feet, the inability to wear heels, stage fright, and absolutely zero dance experience. My mission to embrace my fears would be taken to a whole other level. My friends thought I was crazy when I decided to do it: "Monica, you know that you have to actually dance on that show, right?" they asked. "Are you sure you want to do it?" No, I wasn't completely sure, but what did I have to lose? I gave my new favorite answer to every opportunity that life threw my way: "Why not?"
I was paired with Jonathan Roberts, a show veteran who looked as dashing in person as he did when he partnered Marie Osmond, Heather Mills, and Rachel Hunter on television. One of the most patient people I've ever met, Jonathan wasn't fazed by my hips' complete inability to shake. Over and over he painstakingly went through the steps for our first two dances together, the fox-trot and the mambo. I had some prior work obligations, so we couldn't hunker down in the L.A.-based dance studios like the other contestants. Jonathan gamely met up with me all over the place: we practiced in any empty rooms we could nd in Tokyo, Florida, and New York, eight hours a day for four weeks. With one week to go before the show, we headed to L.A., where the filming took place, for last-minute dance step cramming. My inner perfectionist kicked in when, with five days to go, I scheduled our dance sessions for seven in the morning.
"Seven?" Jonathan asked in disbelief. "I'm not even awake until nine."
"But I don't know the steps yet!" I was starting to panic. We'd just shared practice time with Christian de la Fuente and Cheryl Burke and they looked unbelievable gliding across the floor. I knew I was in trouble, and Jonathan -- who had seen some of the other practices -- wasn't pulling any punches. "Monica, I'm going to be honest. We've got an uphill battle." The whole I'm doing the show for fun mantra was being replaced with I'm terrified of making a fool out of myself.
"Okay, how about we compromise and make it eight o'clock?" he offered.
"All right, but not a minute after." I was having flashbacks to being thirteen years old and, having just moved to Florida from the former Yugoslavia, showing up at the Academy's courts at 6:40 a.m. for a 7:00 a.m. session. I was so used to the tiny windows of time that were given to me on the adult courts in my hometown of Novi Sad that I didn't want to waste a second. By the time a coach arrived, I'd already be warmed up and ready to launch straight into hitting. I'd mellowed a lot since then, but that Type A, gotta-get-it-right girl was still lurking inside me. We practiced our routines a hundred times and I videotaped Jonathan executing the more intricate footwork that I couldn't get down during our rehearsals. At night I'd go to my hotel room and watch the footage over and over again, pausing it to practice in front of the mirror. I was relieved that the first episode of the show would feature the guys. All I'd have to do was sit in the front row and smile. But I became even more panicked when I saw how good they looked. They looked like naturals. Even the guys who weren't as coordinated could pull off a decent performance by standing in one place while their professional pixie partners twirled and sashayed all around them.
The next day, as I was psyching myself up for my big dancing debut, I was in for another shock: the preparations were like a prom, a wedding, and a beauty pageant rolled into one. Spray tans, hair extensions, fake lashes, manicures, and endless layers of makeup. All in all, the process took six hours. Sitting in a chair for that long was tedious, but I did learn how to make the nose I inherited from my dad appear smaller. The tricks of shading can work wonders. When it was all over, I hardly recognized my lacquered-up new self and I was exhausted before I even set foot on the dance floor. My outfit was a long, frilly pink ensemble that looked like Cinderella swathed in cotton candy. My eight-year-old self would've died for that dress, but the thirty-four-year-old me had very different taste.
I looked around at my competition -- Shannon Elizabeth (actress with never-ending legs), Marlee Matlin (actress with spunky spirit), Priscilla Presley (actress with confident grace), Marissa Jaret Winokur (Broadway star with energy to burn), and Kristi Yamaguchi (Olympic ? gure skater who looked like she was born to dance) -- all decked out in sparkles, spangles, and heels. There was a hum of nervous energy in the air, and with a jolt I realized that I was out of my league. These women all had backgrounds in performing and playing to an audience, while I'd spent my career tuning the crowd out so I could focus on the ball. Without a doubt they'd know how to work the camera, and I didn't have the slightest idea where it was. Was it too late to back out?
"Ten minutes until curtain!" the stage manager yelled. Yep, it was way too late. We each took our place for the cast introduction and I was lined up at the top of the stage's stairs next to Jason Taylor, the stud NFL player who had performed beautifully the night before. I must have looked like I was about to face a ?ring squad because he took one look at me and said, "What have we gotten ourselves into?"
"I have no idea," I managed to squeak out.
"At least on the football ?eld I know what I'm doing," he said as we began the dramatic descent toward the audience. I felt so much better knowing I wasn't the only one who was feeling way out of the comfort zone. If a tough football player was nervous, then my legs had every right to be shaking like a skittish colt's.
After the opening sequence, I went backstage to wait for my cue. Jonathan kept telling me to just have fun. He sounded like my dad before huge matches. There was no way I was going to have fun out there. I'd do it, but it wasn't going to be fun. I was too busy mentally replaying the sequence of steps in my head to remember something as silly as having a good time. Convinced I wouldn't hear the beat of the music, I told Jonathan to wink at me when it was my cue to start our dance. We took our places on the stage, and before I knew it, he was winking at me.
Showtime. He twirled me around the floor and I tried to keep up with his flawless fox-trot as best I could. My turns weren't as tight or controlled as they could have been, but I didn't miss a step and I didn't fall flat on my face -- a success in my book. Unfortunately, not messing up wasn't a strong enough showing for the judges. I got the lowest score of the night and was told that I looked "uncomfortable" and "awkward" and that my "core wasn't strong enough." How ironic. After years of working to build up my inner core and working out with my trainer, Gyll, to strengthen my physical one, the biggest criticism was that my core wasn't up to par. Yikes. Thirty seconds of negative feedback wiped out the hesitant confidence I'd built up over the past several weeks of practice. Thirty seconds was all it took to shake me off kilter. After the show, all of the contestants moved through the press line, doing short interviews with the media outlets. To my total shock, halfway through the line, tears started flowing down my face. I finished the rest of the interviews as quickly as I could and rushed backstage to get myself together. The harder I tried not to cry, the more the tears kept coming. Jonathan immediately found me and told me there was no reason to be upset. I'd done every thing I was supposed to: our goal had been to get all our steps into the routine, so who cared that we got the lowest score? Big deal. Easy for him to say. He hadn't been torn apart for being awkward, uncoordinated, and cursed with bad posture in front of millions of households in America. The thing was, I truly thought I'd done well. If I had thought I'd performed horribly, then I would have been fine with the criticism. But my definition of "well" and the judges' definition of it were not even close. I had never danced before, so my frame of reference was quite different. I was going to have to accept it. I went to my hotel that night upset and rattled. I took a look at my puffy eyes in the mirror and went into reality check mode.
Why are you being so hard on yourself? This is a dance show. It's supposed to be fun. So what if you got a little criticism? Nobody's perfect. Shake it off and do better the next time. Your core, the inner one, the one that's the most important, is strong. It's going to take more than some dance judges to throw you off balance. Just get right back out there and try again. I turned on the video camera and watched Jonathan perform our moves from the mambo, our next dance. I had a few days to get it together and come back with a vengeance. I showed up at our rehearsal in the morning bright-eyed and on a mission. But I was momentarily thrown off course by the Hungarian bakery downstairs from the studio. The aroma of fresh baked goodies wafted through the air and tempted me like crazy. It appealed to all of my childhood cravings. After some especially disheartening practices the previous week, I had slipped into an old bad habit and indulged in some key sugary purchases. They hadn't done me any good. No, not this time, I told myself as I walked right past the open door. Pastries will not make me a better dancer.
I mamboed myself to the point of exhaustion for the next three days and, taking the advice of the costume designer, decided to make my appearance a little more va-va-voom. My dress for the second dance was a gold-spangled number that barely covered my rear. I'd seen how hot Shannon Elizabeth's outfit had been and I knew I had to sex it up a little more, but there was only so much va-va-voom I felt comfortable with. The designer and I compromised on the hem length and I loved the finished product. I showed up for the second show ready to shake my stuff. Jonathan gave me one piece of advice: Smile.
"No matter what you do, just smile. If you miss a step, trip over your own feet, mess up a spin, just smile. If you smile enough nobody will ever know."
"Okay, got it: Smile," I repeated back to him.
"And especially on the split. Look right into the camera and smile as if your life depended on it," he added.
The music started, Jonathan winked at me, and we were off. I channeled my inner vixen and strutted all over the dance floor with as much conviction as my heels would allow. I smiled until my face hurt, and when it came time for the split, I searched for the camera. Damn. There were six of them. Which one was I supposed to grin seductively into? I took a wild guess and did my best. I finished the number without any of my bracelets flying off and hitting Jonathan in the face -- again, a success in my book, but I knew it was unlikely to impress the judges. I was right. I got the lowest score again and I knew I was destined to be booted off first. Luckily for me, Penn Jillette was kicked off at the same time, so I didn't have to brave the rejection solo. Misery loves company. And I was pretty miserable for the first few days. People recognized me all over the place -- at the grocery store, the gas station, the airport -- and they were incredibly kind to me. The only thing I'd wanted to do was stay on the show for at least a week, and I was mortified that I hadn't been able to do it. But nobody seemed to remember just how dismal my performance was. They told me how great I looked and how gutsy I'd been to try something new. I was disappointed in my performance and crushed that it had been in front of millions of people, but those lovely dance-show-watching strangers were right -- I had been brave to give it a go and my legs had looked pretty good in that gold dress.
If I'd done the same thing five years earlier, I wouldn't have come back for the second dance. I would have returned home to Florida, cried, eaten, cried some more, eaten even more, and hidden from everyone for weeks. I would have carried the sting of those comments around with me like a scarlet letter. I would have avoided social situations and spoken to few of my friends. The humiliation would have been too much. But I was a different person now, and it took only a few days of moping around before I realized that I was fine. I'd faced my greatest fear, performed despite a case of nerves that was worse than any I'd had before my Grand Slam finals, subjected myself to the judgment of total strangers, and taken criticism without falling apart in front of millions of people. In the end, it wasn't nearly as bad as I'd feared it would be. If you don't take risks in life, you won't get anything out of it. If my core could take that and still be in one piece, there wasn't anything I couldn't take on.
Excerpted from Getting A Grip: On My Body, My Mind, My Self by Monica Seles. Copyright © April 2009 by Avery Books, a division of Penguin Group USA.
Seles On Satellite[04.15.2009]
Monica Seles is heading to New York City prepared to jump start your life.
Seles will return to SIRIUS XM Radio to host a five-week series on which she will share her personal experiences of success, struggle and triumph and inspire listeners to live happy and healthy lives—mentally, physically and emotionally.
The Monica Seles Challenge: 5 Weeks to Jump Start Your Life launches Wednesday, April 15 at 6 p.m. Eastern time and will air every Wednesday through May 13 from 6:00 – 8:00 p.m. on SIRIUS XM Stars, SIRIUS channel 102 and XM channel 155. Seles will host the show from SIRIUS XM Radio's New York City studios. The Monica Seles Challenge marks the second time Seles has hosted a series on SIRIUS XM Radio.
On The Monica Seles Challenge Seles will draw upon her remarkable life experiences, speak candidly about issues she has faced and conquered and impart her valuable life lessons with listeners. In this tough economy when women are under more pressure than ever, Seles and her special guests will offer practical tips and advice to help people find the tools and strength to overcome the obstacles they face.
Over Seles' tennis career, she earned nine Grand Slam titles and won 53 singles and six doubles tournaments. She first became No. 1 in the world in March 1991. Seles was No. 1 for 178 weeks during the next two years—the youngest No. 1 ever at the time—until tragedy struck in April 1993 when she was stabbed in the back by a deranged fan during a match in Germany. When she returned to tennis, she won hearts with her comeback win at the Canadian Open and then reached the US Open Final the following month. She won her ninth Grand Slam title at the Australian Open in January 1996.
Seles' memoir Getting a Grip: On My Body, My Mind, My Self (Avery) will be published on April 21.
On court Monica Seles was all but unbeatable; off court she was losing a battle with her weight. Now the tennis great tells Rebecca Johnson how she finally stopped obsessing.
It is bad enough to be a young woman struggling with your weight. Now imagine the eyes of the world on you as you do it. And oh, yes, the whole time they’re watching, you’re wearing a short white skirt that barely covers your bum.
Yugoslavian-born tennis phenomenon Monica Seles won eight Grand Slam titles before she turned 20, but what sticks in her mind about that time are the insults heaped on her by the press. “‘Big as Blimp,’ ‘Fatso,’” she reels them off from her home in Florida, where she now lives, having officially retired from the game last year. “I was ranked number three in the world, but all they would say about me was that I needed to lose weight and stop grunting.” In interviews Seles came off as a giggly teenager without a care, but on the inside she was hurting. “I’d like to tell you it didn’t bother me, but it did.”
Athlete memoirs tend to follow a certain arc: Junior is born to loving parents who recognize his extraordinary talent, make superhuman sacrifices, then watch as he works hard to become a champion (with some awesome endorsement contracts thrown in). As she writes in her often fearless and sometimes funny new autobiography, Getting a Grip: On My Body, My Mind, My Self, Monica Seles’s journey was not so different. Born to middle-class parents in post-Tito Yugoslavia, a wintry, soccer-mad country where tennis is an afterthought, Seles developed a passion for the game when she was six years old. Without the money to pay club fees, Seles’s father, a political cartoonist, improvised by fashioning a net from string tied to the cars in the parking lot of the family’s apartment building. This, he explained to his daughter, is our court. And this is how you hold a racket. (Years later, professional coaches would try to undo Seles’s unconventional two-handed forehand but eventually gave up. It may have looked odd, but it worked.)
When she was only twelve years old, legendary coach Nick Bollettieri spotted Seles at a tournament in Miami and promptly offered her a scholarship to his tennis academy in Bradenton, Florida. Moving to America was a shock on many levels. Seles had to save two weeks to afford a Häagen-Dazs ice cream while other students were being given things like BMW convertibles for their sixteenth birthdays. More important, none of the other girls wanted to play against her. At the time, she assumed it was because she wasn’t cool enough, but now she understands that they simply didn’t like losing. Even the boys would storm off the court in frustration when she refused to hit the ball to them during routine rallies. “If I was going to be out there,” she says, “I figured I may as well hit the ball like I meant it.”
With her trademark intensity and innate talent, Seles quickly became a force to be reckoned with, but she also began to discover the harsh truth all professional tennis players must eventually learn: Tennis may look glamorous to an outsider, but it’s a hard and lonely life. Today’s friend might be tomorrow’s competitor. If you want to be number one, tennis has to come first.
Looking back, Seles sees the seeds of her eventual eating disorder in that harsh reality. “I was taken out of the classroom when I was fourteen; I couldn’t make friends. In tennis, you travel eleven months out of the year. It’s like a roller coaster going, going, going. All those things got to me. I couldn’t cope.” To the public, Seles was an extraordinarily focused athlete with an iron will to win. The reality was far different. “I was always nervous,” she says. “I love to play tennis, but I hate that somebody has to win and somebody has to lose.” (Though if somebody had to lose, better her opponent, as evidenced by her then number-one ranking in the world.)
Teenage angst, however, was nothing compared with what happened to Seles on April 30, 1993, during an otherwise ordinary match against Magdalena Maleeva in Hamburg, Germany. On a changeover between sets, Seles paused for a drink of water. As she leaned over to bring the cup to her lips, she felt a sudden stabbing pain in her shoulder. She looked up to see a face filled with hatred and a nine-inch-long knife dripping with her blood. Her attacker, an obsessed Steffi Graf fan, had decided to eliminate his idol’s biggest competition. Millimeters to the left and he would have been permanently successful.
As Seles lay in a hospital, completely immobile, waiting to hear if she would ever be able to play tennis again, the top players of the world met to vote on whether to freeze her ranking during her recovery. Not a single player voted yes. As her attacker wished, Graf ascended to number one, taking all Seles’s paid endorsement contracts with her. “That,” she says, “is when I realized tennis really is just a business. Until then, a part of me thought we were playing the game because it was fun.”
It took more than two years before Seles set foot on a professional tennis court again. When she did, the sniping about her body reached a crescendo. Depressed by her father’s cancer diagnosis and panicked by her 25-pound weight gain, Seles hired a raft of personal trainers and nutritionists to travel the world with her. Despite their carefully planned menus of protein shakes and broiled chicken breasts, her weight ballooned to 177 pounds. She bought every diet book on the market, but Seles soon learned what millions of others already know: Diets don’t work, no matter how much discipline you may have in other arenas. “I was focused; that’s the irony,” she says. “As soon as I was told I couldn’t eat a cookie, I began to obsess on having a cookie.”
The math was inexorable. She might be burning 4,000 to 5,000 calories in her grueling daily workouts, but she was eating 5,000 to 6,000 calories during late-night binges on junk food like chocolate-covered pretzels. Bathing suits became instruments of torture. Boyfriends who mentioned her weight were summarily dumped.
Her (mostly) male trainers simply did not understand. To them, food was fuel. You ate it to perform well. Indeed, most of the other women on the tour couldn’t understand, either. “Their weight,” she says, “never varied by more than three or four pounds.” But to Seles, food was solace, especially after her beloved father died of the cancer he’d been battling for more than five years. “Looking back,” she says, “I can see I wasn’t dealing with the things that were bothering me. Other people relax by drinking or smoking. I would eat. Then I would think everything would be better if I could just lose 20 pounds.”
It didn’t help that women’s tennis at that time was being transformed into a beauty contest, thanks to a Russian hottie named Anna Kournikova. “When I started playing,” Seles recalls, “players didn’t even wear makeup.” Suddenly, a player’s looks were as important as her game. Today, Seles sometimes plays doubles with Kournikova and is still amazed by the Russian’s effect on men—“When Anna plays, all my male friends call me to see if they can get tickets.”
At 35, Seles herself is no slouch in the looks department. Every woman has an age that suits her best; for Monica, that age seems to be now. With the end of her career looming, she finally shed the weight once and (hopefully) for all. At five feet ten, she’s a svelte size 4, with a much healthier attitude toward food. “I don’t use food to cope with a problem. I know that eating fifteen cookies won’t solve it.” She has also adopted a decidedly relaxed workout schedule—she walks as much as she can and takes an exercise class twice a week. Her once-problematic “poodle” hair has been tamed by regular straightening—“If I have a regret in life, it’s that I wasn’t born with naturally straight hair.”
Despite everything, Seles is grateful for her life in tennis. “OK, I didn’t get to go to the prom,” she says, “but I did get to meet Nelson Mandela.” Her only real regret is that she didn’t get the overeating under control sooner. “It occupied so much of my brain! I wish I could get those years back.” In her post-tennis career, which includes a show for SIRIUS XM Radio, Seles travels the country talking to women’s groups and corporations. It was among real people that she heard firsthand how many women have struggled, like her, with the same issues. “They all wanted to know how I did it, which is why I wrote the book,” she says. “It’s not about dieting. It has to come from within.”
“Net Worth” has been edited for Vogue.com; the complete story appears in the April 2009 issue of Vogue.
Monica to help shelter pets[03.18.2009]
Monica Seles is a former World No. 1 professional tennis player and a member of the International Tennis Hall of Fame. The legendary Seles became the youngest-ever champion at the 1990 French Open at the age of 16.
Recently retired, Monica has changed her focus from serving tennis balls to tossing them to puppies to play fetch! As a good friend to cherished Animal League spokesperson, Beth Stern, Monica also shares a passion for animals and has joined in our mission to help shelter pets.
In 2008, Monica attended the Animal League's DogCatemy Celebrity Gala in an effort to raise awareness to the plight of shelter pets everywhere, and just recently, during her visit she was bottle-feeding newborns and walking adult dogs at the Animal League.
We are happy to welcome Monica Seles as the newest member of our Animal League family.
Seles Spends Day With New York Charity[03.13.2009]
Legendary nine-time Grand Slam champion Monica Seles, along with former New York Knicks shooting guard John Starks, recently paid a visit to the "I Challenge Myself" project in New York City's Washington Heights neighborhood. The former pros, both members of the Laureus World Sports Academy, presented the project with a cheque for $25,000 as part of the Laureus Sport For Good Foundation's support.
"I Challenge Myself" (ICM) is a non-profit project using fitness-based challenges to help high school students from New York's low-income communities develop physical, academic and social skills. The project intends to curb obesity and related illnesses that are prevalent in low-income communities. Laureus granted the project the initial funding to begin its Cycling Smarts program in 2004.
"This is a terrific project and a great concept and I'm very pleased that Laureus is able to support it," Seles said. "It takes care of kids at an age when it is really important to get them off the streets and prevent them from getting involved in drugs and crime. This is where sport can be such a winner."
"Cycling Smarts is a brilliant idea because the students taking part in it can measure their improved fitness and changes in their diet and feel they are making progress week by week," Starks said. "I want to congratulate all the participants, the coaches and the organizers, who have made ICM the great success it is."
While in New York, Seles and Starks took part in one day of the program's self-confidence boosting training session. The goal is to drive students who had difficulty completing a five-minute sprint on the spin bike to complete their first one-day, 100-mile bike ride.
In addition to her work with the Laureus World Sports Academy, Seles' humanitarian efforts include work with the Intergovernmental Institution for the use of Micro-algae Spirulina Against Malnutrition (IIMSAM). As a Goodwill Ambassador and Spokesperson for its Global Sports for Peace and Development Program Initiative, Seles works to counter malnutrition, and work towards the achievement of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals.
Are your kids ready to learn tennis? Monica Seles thinks so[02.25.2009]
The former #1 world ranked tennis star joined Susie Wargin for the latest 6:20 Sidebar to talk about an event coming up on Monday, March 2nd called "Tennis Night in America." To view the interview, visit the video player above this article.
In more that 700 tennis facilities, recreation departments and community centers across the U.S. the first-ever national youth registration initiative for all spring and summer tennis programs will take place on Monday. The launch will also feature demonstrations for kids and parents.
"Tennis Night in America" also includes the winner-take-all "BNP Paribas Showdown for the Billie Jean King Cup" at New York's Madison Square Garden. The Showdown features four of the top women's players in the world-10-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams, two-time defending Wimbledon champion Venus Williams, reigning French Open champion Ana Ivanovic and 2008 year-end No. 1 Jelena Jankovic-playing in a one-night, single-elimination tournament for the inaugural Billie Jean King Cup before a live national TV audience on HBO.
National Youth Registration Night events serve as "opening day" for parents to sign up their kids for league and team tennis play, including USTA Jr. Team Tennis. Facilities and clubs across the country, will also be offering live viewing parties for the "BNP Paribas Showdown for the Billie Jean King Cup" to complement the kick-off of the 2009 tennis season.
Tennis participation in the U.S. has grown more than any other traditional sport since 2000. According to the annual research survey conducted for the Tennis Industry Association and the USTA by the Taylor Research Group, nearly 26.9 million people played tennis in 2008, the highest number of participants in 15 years. That marked a 7 percent increase over the prior year and an increase of more than 30 percent since 2000. In addition, the number of new tennis players increased by 3 percent last year to more than 5.9 million.
For more information on Tennis Night in America and to find out which facilities are hosting locally in Colorado, visit www.tennisnight.com.
Monica Heads Hall Of Fame's Class Of 2009[01.15.2009]
By Richard Pagliaro
From the very first time she recalls swinging at a tennis ball, Monica Seles held her racquet with both hands as if embracing a long-lost family member she never wanted to let go. The hug from the heart for the sport that symbolizes family support remains within her.
She learned to play tennis in a parking lot belting balls bearing the image of the cartoon characters her cartoonist father, Karolj, drew on the felt sphere to make the game fun for her and she grew into one of the greatest players the sport has ever seen.
Seles always said nothing gave her greater joy than the simply striking the ball. Today, Seles' coronation as a champion for the ages became official as the International Tennis Hall of Fame announced Seles will lead the historic Hall's Class of 2009, which will be inducted on Saturday, July 11th in Newport, Rhode Island.
The nine-time Grand Slam singles champion and former World No. 1 was elected to the Hall in the Recent Player Category. Joining her in the Master Player category is Andres Gimeno. Gimeno was one of Spain's most prominent tennis players of the 1960s, who remains Roland Garros' oldest singles champion, winning the coveted clay court title in 1972. Elected in the Contributor category are: Donald L. Dell, a former US Davis Cup player and an industry pioneer and leader in sports marketing, professional sports management and sports television and founder of ProServ and Dr. Robert "Whirlwind" Johnson, inducted posthumously, founder and director of the American Tennis Association (ATA) Junior Development Program, who worked tirelessly for decades assisting young African-American players (most notably Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe) in gaining admittance into previously segregated tournaments.
"I'm so excited and so honored to be inducted into the Hall of Fame alongside Andres Gimeno, Donald Dell and Dr. Johnson," Seles told the media in a conference call today. "What a way for me to remember the amazing tennis career I had and hopefully inspire young girls around the world that dreams do come true. When I picked up the racquet for the first time, I could never imagine where that racquet will take you. And for me at age 35 with my tennis career behind me I can't really put it into words what it means (to be inducted into the Hall of Fame."
Singles is a solitary sport, but Seles was never alone on the court - she always felt accompanied by the father and family that introduced her to tennis and nurtured her love for the game.
"I will get very emotional when I talk about him in July because really without him I would have never nurtured my tennis," Seles said of her dad. "Without my dad's love for the game and really just making it fun for me... He never made it like it was something I had to do. He just made it fun - that helped me stay in the game so long and to keep my sanity. When you see a player out on center court you just see that person, but there are a lot of people behind them who took them there and in my case it was my family, especially my father."
The two-handed titan captured nine Grand Slam championships and won 53 singles and six doubles tournaments, collecting $14,891,762 in career prize money in a professional career that began on February 13, 1989. She first became No.1 in the world in March, 1991. She was No.1 for 178 weeks during the next two years - the youngest No.1 ever at the time - until tragedy struck in April, 1993, when she was stabbed in the back during a match in Hamburg, Germany by a madman, Gunter Parche, who emerged from the crowd and plunged the blade into her back just below her left shoulder blade. Parche never served prison time for a vicious attack, while Seles was left to pick up the pieces after a horrific attack that sidelined her for 27 months.
The attack literally cut her career as it approached its apex and while Seles said she tries not to wonder "what if" the stabbing never occurred the attack can still haunt her head.
"I thought of that probably the day after my stabbing; (now) it comes and goes and there are days I don't think about it," Seles said. "Obviously now that I'm not playing I don't think about it. It is one of those things. Unfortunately it really changed the career of mine and definitely Stefanie (Graf's) career and that was out of my control and it was really up to me to take control and I decided to play. What could have been? Nobody knows. What could have been if I didn't pick up a tennis racquet at seven? I try not to ask myself those questions because really there are no answers."
She was not able to play again for more than two years. When she did return, she won even more hearts with her comeback win at the Canadian Open, then reached the U.S. Open final the following month. Remarkably, she then won her ninth Grand Slam title at the Australian Open in January 1996.
The owner of a 595-122 record, Seles won concluded 1991 and 1992 as World No. 1. In a sustained span of dominance she won eight of the 11 Grand Slam tournaments she entered from 1989 to 1993. Seles was a force in Fed Cup competition posting a 17-2 record, including a 15-2 mark in singles matches. 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."
In her younger years, Seles revolutionized women's tennis by playing a bold baseline game and producing power and short angles seldom seen in women's tennis. The woman who took the ball so early it looked like she was hitting half volleys from the baseline, possessed perhaps the most lethal return of serve in the history of women's tennis, and a stirring shriek that accompanied her stunning shots.
"The ball is being hit harder and harder, and the girls are much more complete players than they used to be, physically stronger," Seles told Tennis Week in a past interview. "I think I probably was one of the earliest to start it. I brought in power with two hands from both sides. I was one of a few players that brought on this power game and they've taken it to a new level. Then the grunting part, everybody is now doing it. It's like normal now. Seeing women play such aggressive tennis is really great."
Though Seles has limited her competitive appearances to World TeamTennis and exhibition matches in recent years, she still plans to pursue her favorite tennis past-time with a passion: hitting. The simple act of hitting the ball over the net over and over again still brings genuine joy to one of the sharpest ball strikers in the sport's history.
"I had a very unusual career, to say the least," Seles told Tennis Week. "I had some highs and lows. But at the end of the day, I got to do something I loved to do. As a little girl, how I started playing tennis was very simple. That part, I'm proud to say, has never changed. To me, I get a great joy just hitting the ball."
Technically, Seles' trademark two-handed strokes were unconventional. Mentally, she was one of the strongest players to every pick up a racquet, competing with fierce focus.
"You know when you saw Monica Seles at 12 years old, you know I told my friends I thought Monica would be the best player in the world," Nick Bollettieri, who worked with Seles early in her career, told Tennis Week. "But when you looked at her natural physical ability as a strong athlete able to push the weights and all that, you know she didn't have that. But what she had was hitting the ball early, great focus and determination and always competed well. And I thought she would be No. 1, but to look at her physically, then you said: 'Well, you know I don't think this girl has it to make it physically.' But mentally, she was just off the charts."
A stress fracture in her foot forced Seles to step away from the WTA Tour five years ago. She had not played a match since limping out of the French Open in a 6-4, 6-0 loss to Nadia Petrova in May of 2003. It was the first time in her storied career that Seles suffered a first-round loss in a Grand Slam.
Adjusting to life after tennis was not a smooth transition as she slipped into an emotional void. Seles gained nearly 25 pounds at the end of her career and stuggled to lose the weight and find her self-worth and come to terms with her own identity as a person rather than simply live with the label of being a life-long player. When the ball stopped bouncing, the woman capable of digging so deep down on the court had to work on herself and find her inner value away from the game.
"Leaving my home at a very early age on (you're) giving up something for that yet on the other end getting so many great things: the fame, financial freedom," Seles said. "There were the tragedies and really at the end of the day it was discovering who Monica is and all the things that happened were outsie of my hands. And during my last three or four years (on the WTA Tour) you could definitely see that in my weight. I look back at pictures and I can tell you I just was not a happy person inside. After I stopped playing tennis I had to give time to Monica and figure out what I wanted and who I was. I had to deal wtih certain things I really didn't want to. My dad always said 'Put one step in front of you' but at the end of the day you realize how fragile life was. My self worth was in tennis, my weight was very high and I wasn't the happiest person, let's put it that way."
That inner journey to self discovery has prompted Seles to write a book, which is scheduled for release this year.
"(The book is about) getting a grip on my body, my mind and myself: my journey from tenis, fame the tragedy, my self-discovery and it will be a lot written toward women about the weight," Seles said. "I lost a lot of weight since I stopped playing tennis, which is a big irony since in tennis you exercise so much. I work wtih pre-schoolers on fitness; (obesity) is one of my pet peeves because kids today are more sedentary."
Though she seemed to play with a ruthlessness on court, Seles was the personification of graciousness off court.
"I was a normal person in some extraordinary circumstances," Seles said. "I became No. 1 as a teenager, I battled rebellion in my own way yet it was on a world stage so if I cut my hair short it was big news. At 19 to get stabbed by Parche on a tennis court definitely was unusual - something that never happened before or since - and totally changed the course of my tennis career. Coming back to tennis at 21 was a big decision and a year later losing my father...it was lot of highs and a lot of lows. One thing that kept me going was I loved the game. Whenever I talk to kids today I tell them 'You gotta love the game.' If you don't love the game, then in the long run it's just not worth it. That love really kept me through the good times and the bad times. I loved playing tennis at my house in my backyard just as much as I did playing on the center court at the French Open or Wimbledon."
Seles leads 2009 class for Tennis Hall of Fame[01.15.2009]
Monica Seles was elected to the International Tennis Hall of Fame on Thursday, honored for a career in which she won nine Grand Slam singles titles and returned to the tour after being stabbed while playing a match.
"It was just a lot of highs and a lot of lows," Seles said during a conference call. "One of the things that always kept me going was my love of the game."
Also elected were 1972 French Open champion Andres Gimeno, Association for Tennis Professionals co-founder Donald Dell, and the late Robert Johnson, who pioneered the integration of tennis. The induction is July 11.
Known for her two-tone grunts and two-handed swings off both wings, Seles won 53 singles titles, including four at the Australian Open, three at the French Open and two at the U.S. Open.
When she first rose to No. 1 in 1991, she was 17, at the time the youngest woman to have topped the rankings. By the time she was 19, Seles already had won eight major championships.
But in April 1993, at the height of her success, she was attacked by a man who climbed out of the stands at a tournament in Hamburg, Germany.
Seles returned to the game 27 months later and immediately reached the 1995 U.S. Open final. Her final Grand Slam title then came at the 1996 Australian Open; she would go on to reach two more major finals.
Seles said she does not dwell on how her career might have fared had the stabbing not happened.
"I try not to ask myself those questions because there are really no answers to it," she said.
Hampered by an injured left foot, she played her last match at the 2003 French Open at age 29. Thinking she might try to come back at some point, Seles waited until last year to officially announce her retirement.
Born in what was then Yugoslavia, Seles moved to the United States when she was 13 to work at the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy. She became a U.S. citizen in 1994 and helped the United States win three Fed Cup titles.
Seles also won an Olympic bronze medal in 2000, and at the age of 16 became the youngest French Open champion in history. She called her first major victory the greatest of her career.
"As a 16-year-old, everybody says, 'Oh, you're going to be great, blah, blah, blah,"' she said. "Until you actually do it, you don't believe it."