Yugoslav tennis player
With youth, personality and talent on her side, as well as a number one ranking and one of the game's most memorable grunts, Monica Seles put power into her shots and dominated tennis in the early nineties. But when a crazed fan at a German tournament attacked her in 1993, her subsequent two years away from the sport left many wondering if she would ever return; when she did return, people questioned if she'd ever come back to full form. She did, and in spite of several hardships that might have caused lesser players to leave the game altogether, Seles is back, and once again she has been ranked with the top players in the world. She finished the 2002 season with 589 wins, 116 losses, and 53 career singles titles, with 9 Grand Slam singles titles in her career.
Monica Seles was born December 2, 1973, in Novi Sad, Yugoslavia, to Karolj and Esther Seles. Her father worked as a cartoonist and film director and her mother was a computer programmer. Her brother, Zoltan, also played tennis, and Monica would take up the game when she was six, learning from her father the style that she uses to this day, one that consists of using both hands to hit her forehand and backhand shots, an unorthodox method that nonetheless allows her to put
more power into her game and be precise with where shot placement.
As a child, Seles aimed for the cartoon faces that her father would draw onto the tennis balls. It was soon apparent that she didn't just love practicing, but that she was somewhat of a tennis prodigy. By the time she was nine—only three years after taking up the game—she competed in and won the Yugoslav 12-and-under girls championship. As her youth progressed, she continued to accumulate juniors titles. winning the European 12-and-under championship when she was ten, and then at twelve earning the title of Yugoslavia's Sportswoman of the Year.
Trip to America
Following her accolades in her home country, it seemed there was nothing left for Seles to accomplish as a child superstar in her own country. Soon after she won the Sportswoman of the Year honors, her family flew to Florida, where she competed in an American junior tournament.
It was in Florida that she drew the attention of tennis coach Nick Bollettieri, who also coached the likes of Andre Agassi and Jim Courier . Bollettieri offered to coach the young standout, but like many other tennis stars, Seles and her family had a tough decision to make: Bollettieri would not be traveling back to Yugoslavia, and so if they wanted a standout coach for their daughter, the Seles family would have to part either with their country or their daughter. They chose to leave their country, giving up their jobs in Yugoslavia and moving the family to Florida. Seles's career became the entire family's focus, and she soon devoted her life to developing her game at Bollettieri's academy where she excelled both on the court and in the classroom.
Young and Professional
Seles chose to turn professional early in 1989. It was not too soon, as she won the second pro tournament she played in by defeating Chris Evert , who then came back to beat the 16-year-old later that year at the U.S. Open. But it was a phenomenal start to her career. While Steffi Graf dominated women's tennis, Seles earned her wings by playing in the majors. That first year, in addition to playing Evert in the U.S. Open, Seles reached the semifinals of the French Open but lost to the number one Graf in three sets. By the conclusion of the season she had earned a number six ranking. And her career was just beginning.
Her second year on tour didn't disappoint her fans—who were growing in number by the tournament. She won the Italian Open (defeating Martina Navratilova ), then beat Graf in the German Open. Seles continued to chalk up victories, and for such a young star many wondered if she would get a Grand Slam sooner rather than later. They would not have to wait long. Seles picked up her first Grand Slam victory at the French Open, facing Graf yet again at Rolland Garros, but this time defeating her in two sets. Seles had become the youngest player to capture a Grand Slam final.
From October 3, 1990, to March 18, 1992, Seles made it to the finals of 21 straight tournaments. Graf was still ranked number one in the world, but it seemed that the next great rivalry was in the works (people had loved watching Evert and Navratilova fight over number one in the early eighties). Seles took the Australian Open in 1991, once more making her mark as the youngest victor at a tournament. She repeated the event in Paris at the French Open, then in March ended Steffi Graf's streak of 188 weeks at number one, setting yet another record by becoming the youngest player, male or female, to hold the world number one ranking.
|1973||Born December 2, 1973, in Novi Sad, Yugoslavia, to Ester and Karoly Seles|
|1980||Begins playing tennis; plays in first tournament in the spring and wins|
|1982||Ranked no. 1 junior player in Yugoslavia|
|1985||Wins the Orange Bowl in Miami, meets coach Nick Bollettieri and moves to Florida from Yugoslavia to train|
|1987||Ranked no. 1 junior player in the world|
|1988||Competes in the Virginia Slims tournament in Boca Raton, Florida (competes as an amateur)|
|1989||Turns professional at the age of 15|
|1989||Wins her first professional tournament at the Virginia Slims in Houston in April|
|1990||Wins her first Grand Slam event—the French Open|
|1991||Becomes youngest tennis professional tennis player in history to be ranked no. 1 in the world|
|1991||Wins the French Open, the U.S. Open and the Australian Open|
|1992||Withdraws from Wimbledon due to shin splints|
|1992||Wins the French Open, the U.S. Open and the Australian Open|
|1993||Wins Australian Open|
|1993||Stabbed in the back on April 30th in the quarterfinals of the Citizen Cup in Hamburg, Germany (she will be away from tennis for almost two years)|
|1994||Becomes a naturalized U.S. Citizen|
|1995||Makes her comeback on July 29 and rejoins WTA in August|
|1995-96||Named to Federation Cup Team|
|1996||Releases book "From Fear to Victory" in June 1996|
|1996||Member of U.S. Olympic Tennis Team|
|1996||Publishes her autobiography, Monica: From Fear to Victory|
|1996||Wins the Australian Open|
|1997||Wins her 40th title in August|
|1998||Wins the Tokyo Princess Cup with Anna Kournikova|
|1998-2000||Again named to Federation Cup Team|
|2000||Member of U.S. Olympic Tennis Team|
|2001||Ends season with a thirteen-match winning streak|
Awards and Accomplishments
|1985||Yugoslavian Sportswoman of the Year|
|1989||Tennis Magazine/Rolex Watch Female Rookie of the Year|
|1990||Rado Topspin Award for overall sportsmanship and dedication to the game|
|1990||Sanex WTATour Most Improved Player|
|1991||Sanex WTA Tour Player of the Year; voted ITF Women's World Champion|
|1991||Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year|
|1992||Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year|
|1992||Sanex WTA Tour Player of the Year; voted ITF Women's World Champion|
|1995||Tennis Magazine Comeback Player of the Year|
|1995||Sanex WTA Tour Comeback Player of the Year Award|
|1998||Sanex WTA Tour Comeback Player of the Year Award|
|1998||Named Female Pro Athlete of the Year by the Florida Sports Hall of Fame|
|1999||Named Family Circle Cup Player Who Makes a Difference|
|1999||Awarded the "Commitment to Community" Award by the Florida Times-Union|
|2000||Named Player of the Decade by ESPN at the ESPY Awards|
|2000||Named to Forbes magazine's Power 100 in Fame and Fortune list at no. 66 (no other female athletes made the list)|
|2000||Receives the Flo Hyman Memorial Award from the Women's Sports Foundation|
1991 was the year in which fans thought they'd see Seles do what only six other players in tennis history have done: win the Grand Slam (the Australian and French Opens, Wimbledon, and the U.S. Open) in one year. Seles, however, mysteriously pulled out of Wimbledon, citing illness as the cause. The media rumor-mill started to churn, and there was speculation that she might be pregnant. Seles didn't give the press an answer they wanted, simply asking them, "What if I am?" (She wasn't.)
She returned to the U.S. Open later in the season and defeated Navratilova, who by then was twice Seles's age. The final was not Seles's toughest, but the first set looked as if Navratilova might win one more Grand Slam against the young phenom. After Seles won a grueling first set 7-6, however, she came back to easily win the second set 6-1.
As 1992 wound to a close, it appeared that Seles would reign as the queen of Women's Tennis for years to come. She was only 18, had already won a handful of Grand Slams, and had a number one ranking. She had just finished a season in which she won the Australian Open, and then faced Graf in one of the fiercest French Opens in history. The match saw the tide turn several times, and Seles won the first set 6-2, then lost the second 6-3. By the third set, Seles had flirted with defeat numerous times, but in the end came back and won 10-8, taking the match in what was the "hardest I've ever had to work for a Grand Slam title," she said in Sports Stars.
In a bizarre incident in the spring of 1993, Seles went through what most sports stars and celebrities fear most. She was attacked on April 30, as she sat courtside at a tennis match in Hamburg, Germany, by an out-of-work German lathe operator named Gunter Parche. The man had moved up behind her and, with both hands on a knife, stabbed her in the back. He was poised to strike again when he was wrestled to the ground, but the damage had been done. At his trial, the judge determined that he no longer posed a threat to anyone, which further served to rattle the scared Seles.
Seles was quickly hospitalized. She soon became paranoid about being the object of another attack. She chose to remain out of the spotlight—and away from tennis—for the next two years. It turned out that Parche was an unstable fan of Graf's with a history of stalking the German tennis star. His intention in stabbing Seles was to help return Graf to her number one ranking. When Seles finally returned to tennis again in July of 1995 in an exhibition match against Navratilova, she did so because she wanted to represent the U.S. in the 1996 Olympics, making her official return in August. In a move that many players felt was controversial, Seles was allowed to share a number one world ranking with Graf.
On New Year's in 1996, Seles learned that her father's stomach cancer had returned and the tumor had metastasized. For the next year and a half she was torn between playing tennis—which her father wanted her to do—and spending time with her father. His death in 1998 was hard on her. "He was everything to her," Wertheim writes, "… parent, best friend, architect of her game. Every act reminds her of his absence."
Her father's illness was reflected in her on-court appearance, and she had lost some of the form she had worked so hard to regain since her attack. After he passed away, in May of 1998, Seles got back on the court to avoid sinking too far into despair. "I was unsure whether I would be ready emotionally and probably tennis-wise," she said in Sports Stars. "It was just too tough for me to stay at home. It's so much better for me to be here. It's really tough.… My dad would love me to play. This is what I want to do for the next part of my life. I wish my dad could have seen the end of my career and a lot of other things."
Seles—wearing her father's wedding ring on a chain around her neck—defeated Martina Hingis in the semi-finals but eventually lost to Arantxa Sanchez Vicario in the final (7-6, 0-6, 6-2). But it was the first time Seles had been in a finals since 1993, and the taste of the competition and center court was what she needed to realize that tennis was truly something she loved.
The match in Paris became a turning point for her following the attack and her father's death. "I don't think the real Monica ever left," she said in Sports Stars. "I just think that when there's so many things going on outside your life, it's very difficult to go on a tennis court and be really excited about hitting a ball. Some weeks you can't even go to hit because you're just so sad about what's going on. I was able to concentrate on tennis, which was a very nice feeling. I haven't had it in a long time."
Before Monday's verdict, Seles' two-year absence from tennis had been blamed on her grievances about the way the court in Hamburg and the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) treated her immediately after the attack. The last time Seles granted extended interviews, 15 months ago, she spoke poignantly of being a talent derailed at 19. But the most forbidding obstacle to her return to tennis has always been the spectral possibility that Parche, or someone like him, would surface again—outside a store, through a window, across an airplane aisle.
That's the macabre fear Seles lives with. That's the unshakable anxiety that rears up unexpectedly and overtakes her. Everything will be fine for long stretches; Seles' tennis workouts and her determination to get back on tour may even peak. Then something—perhaps just sitting in a darkened movie theater—triggers a fresh rush of uneasiness. "Then she's thinking of the stabbing," says her father, Karolj Seles, "and she goes to pieces again."
Source: Johnette, Howard. Sports Illustrated (April 10, 1995)
Return to Form
In 2001 Seles reached the finals in two tournaments in California, then made it to the semifinals of the Rogers AT&T Cup in Toronto where she lost to Serena Williams . Seles "is playing her best tennis in recent memory," says Jon Wertheim in Sports Illustrated. In fact, she recently turned to a new training regimen to improve her stamina, which was never great and which
had seemed to dissipate since her return from the attack. According to Wertheim, since she has been forbidden to run due to a foot injury, she started a routine that "included biking, swimming and weight training," as well as hiring a new coach, Mike Sell.
Fans love her, and Seles talks to and acknowledges her fans. In spite of the attack and the isolation she imposed on herself for several years, Seles seems more outgoing now than ever; in a sport where most players are hard to get access to, Seles is one of the more friendly and approachable stars on the circuit. It is a big part of her popularity, and it is a main reason she has the following she does. "She engages whoever stops her, grins, thanks the person, [and] asks questions," S. L. Price writes in Sports Illustrated, mentioning that some of Seles' closest friends were complete strangers she met in a restaurant or at a club.
Sometimes, however, those close to her—her mother, her trainers and coaches—worry that her friendliness may get her back into trouble. According to that same Sports Illustrated article, in 1997 she accepted a ride from the airport with someone she had only just met on the plane.
Yet true to the dynamics of her personality, she is also a solitary individual. When she craves her privacy, it is almost impossible to get her out in public. And when she wants to be outgoing, you cannot turn her off. Since the attack, however, she has been able to mitigate what the world wants with what Seles wants. "I was definitely a pleaser," she told Sports Illustrated in 1998. "Even until last year I always wanted everybody to like me… Then I realized: Just be who you are. You don't have to make everybody else happy if you're really not happy. I realized with my dad, when he was dying, that everything is so much a facade. The only time you're true to yourself is when you die. You have no pretensions. I don't want to wait until I'm dying to be like that."
With youth, personality and talent on her side, as well as a number one ranking and one of the game's most memorable grunts, Monica Seles put power into her shots and dominated tennis in the early nineties. But when she was attacked by a crazed fan at a German tournament in 1993, the subsequent two years away from the sport left many wondering if she had ever return; when she did return, people questioned if she had ever come back to full form.
But she did return, and in spite of several hardships that might have caused lesser players to leave the game altogether, Seles is back and once again one of the top ten players in the world. At the conclusion of the 2002 season, her career record stood at 589 wins, 116 losses, and 53 career singles titles, with 9 Grand Slam singles titles.
Address: c/o Linda Dozoretz Communications, 8033 Sunset Blvd, Suite 6226, Los Angeles, CA 90046.
SELECTED WRITINGS BY SELES:
(With Nancy Ann Richardson) Monica: From Fear to Victory. Harper Collins, 1996.
Collins, Bud and Zander Hollander, eds. Bud Collins' Modern Encyclopedia of Tennis, 2nd ed. Detroit: Visible Ink Press, 1994.
Layden, Joseph. Return of a Champion: The Monica Seles Story. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1996.
"Monica Seles." DISCovering Biography. Detroit: Gale Research, 1997.
"Monica Seles." Great Women in Sports. Detroit: Visible Ink Press, 1996.
"Monica Seles." Sports Stars, Series 1-4.U•X•L, 1994-98.
"Monica Seles." St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture, 5 vols. Detroit: St. James Press, 2000.
Schwabacher, Martin. "Monica Seles." Superstars of Women's Tennis. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 1997.
Seles, Monica and Nancy Ann Richardson. Monica: From Fear to Victory. New York: Harper Collins, 1996.
Detroit Free Press (June 7, 1995): C2.
Howard, Johnette. "Home Alone." Sports Illustrated (April 10, 1995): 44.
Los Angeles Times (May 28, 1996; June 5, 1996; June 27, 1996; September 9, 1996; September 3, 1997; May 27, 1998).
New York Times (May 27, 1991; March 19, 1995; April 30, 1995; July 9, 1995).
Price, S. L. "There's Something About Monica." Sports Illustrated (September 7, 1998): 56-60.
Shmerler, C. "A game of inches." Tennis (September 2000): 70.
Sports Illustrated (June 19, 1988; August 22, 1988; June 18, 1990; May 27, 1991; July 15, 1991; September 16, 1991; June 15, 1992; July 13, 1992; November 30, 1992; June 14, 1993; September 20, 1993; June 19, 1995; July 17, 1995; August 7, 1995; February 5, 1996; April 7, 1997).
USA Today (May 24, 1996; June 11, 1996; July 30, 1996; September 9, 1996; June 5, 1997; May 27, 1998): C2.
Wertheim, L. Jon. "New Training Regimen Pays Off." Sports Illustrated (August 27, 2001): 88.
"Monica-Seles.com." Website for Monica Seles fans. http://www.monica-seles.com (January 22, 2003).
Monica Seles news online. http://www.wso.net/monicaseles/ (January 23, 2003).
Sketch by Eric Lagergren