Friday 10 to 1: Seles’ career highlights
Following on from the 20th anniversary of the vicious stabbing of Monica Seles, we pay tribute to the tennis legend with a look at her top 10 career highlights.
Tuesday marked the 20th anniversary of one of tennis’ blackest days – the stabbing of Monica Seles.
Seles ruled the game before that disturbing incident in Hamburg on 30 April 1993, which forced the champion into a 27-month absence and a crippling depression while completely altering the women’s tennis landscape.
While Seles made an admirable comeback in 1995 and won another major title, she was never able to recapture the form of the first part of her career.
This Friday, we reflect in chronological order on the top 10 highlights of Seles’ magnificent playing career.
Seles announced her arrival in the boldest way possible in 1990. At just 16, she blasted her way to the Roland Garros final and beat the dominant force in women’s tennis at the time, Steffi Graf, in straight sets on the biggest stage, becoming the youngest French Open winner in history. Her double-fisted strokes, grunting, intensity and focus ushered in a new era for the sport, and this match marked the early stages of a storied rivalry with Graf.
After finishing 1990 ranked No.2, Seles wrested control of the game the next year, winning her first Australian Open title and defending her French Open crown. After curiously skipping Wimbledon – she took a six-week break after reportedly suffering shin splints – she returned on the US hardcourts and won in Flushing Meadows, completing the season with a perfect 21-0 record at the majors. Her semifinal win over Jennifer Capriati in New York is an all-time classic, the teens producing one of the first slugfests that have since come to characterise women’s tennis at the top.
In one of the greatest women’s matches in history, Seles defeated Graf in a thrilling three set decider at Roland Garros when the pair’s rivalry was at its peak. The glorious battle gave Seles her third straight French Open title, making her the first woman in the Open Era to achieve a Paris hat-trick.
This was Seles’ most dominant year on tour, with the Yugoslav-turned-American again winning the Australian, French and US titles (as she did in 1991) and also reaching the Wimbledon final. Unfortunately, controversy surrounding her grunting reared its head at the All England Club, with Nathalie Tauziat and Martina Navratilova – her quarterfinal and semifinal opponents – complaining about it to the chair. Seles dialled down the grunts in the final, and was beaten handily by Graf. She finished the season just one win short of a magical calendar-year Grand Slam.
After winning her third straight French Open title in 1992, it was in Melbourne the following year where she completed another three-peat, taking her Australian Open record to a sparkling 21-0 with an intense three-set final win over Graf. From January 1991 to February 1993 Seles had compiled some extraordinary stats – she reached 33 finals in 34 events (winning 20), won 55 of 56 Grand Slam matches, and built a win-loss record of 159-12. And shortly thereafter, she was cruelly stabbed in Hamburg, significantly altering both her life and the landscape of women’s tennis.
Seles took 27 months to return to tennis following the stabbing, but when she did, it was in the most heartwarming way possible. Displaying an incredible tenacity and focus despite the emotional trauma she’d experienced, Seles blitzed the field at the Canadian Open, winning the title for the loss of just 14 games and receiving the rapturous applause and support of fans. It also began a run of four straight Canadian Open titles.
Picking up from where she left off in Toronto, Seles straight-setted all opposition en route to the US Open final – including top-fivers Jana Navotna and Conchita Martinez – to take her place in the decider. Her opponent in the final? None other than Graf. Unlike their pre-1993 rivalry, Graf had the edge after Seles made her comeback, winning in three sets. Yet also different was the much warmer handshake and embrace at net following the match. The Candian and US Opens were the only events Seles contested that year.
Seles travelled Down Under early the following year and maintained her dominance in Melbourne, winning her fourth title in four visits – defeating Anke Huber in the final – to claim the ninth and last Grand Slam title of her career. Having won the Sydney title in the week before the Australian Open, Seles’ win-loss record in Australia now stood at 33-0.
Shortly after her stabbing, Seles was dealt another tragic blow when her father was diagnosed with cancer. He lost his battle with the disease just weeks prior to the 1998 French Open yet had urged his daughter to continue playing, who did so with his wedding ring on a chain around her neck. With the support of the Parisian crowds, Seles won through to the final, blasting world No.1 and top seed Martina Hingis off the court in the semifinals before falling to Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario in the title match. “I’m so sorry that I beat you,” Sanchez-Vicario told Seles during her acceptance speech.
Seles would never reach another Grand Slam final, but did enjoy some excellent results in ensuing seasons and remained a perennial top-10 fixture. Her form went up a notch in 2002 when she arrived at the Australian Open fitter than she’d been in some time – it manifested in her first ever victory over reigning Wimbledon and US Open champ Venus Williams in the quarterfinals. Seles very nearly made the final in Melbourne that year, battling Hingis all the way in the semifinals before going down 6-4 in the third.