March 06, 1999
Monica Seles defeats E. Likhovtseva 7-6, 6-2
INTERVIEWER: Welcome back.
MONICA SELES: Thank you.
INTERVIEWER: Did you have a little trouble being consistent in that first set, going back and forth?
MONICA SELES: I came out pretty rusty. I haven’t been playing that much tennis in the last few weeks. I didn’t feel too secure going out there. I think the ball flies a lot more here. I just felt my strings were a little bit loose. When I started missing a few, I started pushing the ball back; Elena took advantage of that. I was lucky to win the first set.
INTERVIEWER: Can you see much of a difference playing in the desert with the thinner air than playing altitude?
MONICA SELES: I never played a match in altitude. I just hit once in my life in Vail. It was terrible, if you play with regular balls. But here, to my feeling, was that the balls just fly. I wish I could string my racquet a little bit tighter here.
INTERVIEWER: Aside from personal tragedies and problems last year, what are you looking for from the year?
MONICA SELES: Looking forward to really being focused on my tennis and just going out there, competing really hard every single match, and just working really hard in practices, both on and off court, and trying to stay consistent, I think, physically, mentally, emotionally. All those things have to come together.
INTERVIEWER: Is that all within your capability, do you feel?
MONICA SELES: I think most are, but certain things will always take precedent in my life than certain other things. So I hope so, because I really would like that, I think, for the next few years of my life to give it a good shot.
INTERVIEWER: You’re only 25 now. It’s coming up to nine years since you won your first Grand Slam, isn’t it?
MONICA SELES: Yeah, yeah.
INTERVIEWER: Do you think there’s another one in you this year?
MONICA SELES: Definitely. But I have to be better prepared. I think in Australia I played some great matches, and then I played some really not-so-great matches. I think right now, the way women’s tennis is, you need to play great tennis every single match, no let-downs. I think that’s what Martina has been able to do last year, and Lindsay. So that will be one area that I have much higher expectations of myself.
INTERVIEWER: Following on from what you were just saying about Australia, how much of a leg up was that for your confidence for this year? Even though there were mixed results, the fact that you went so far.
MONICA SELES: I think, obviously, it was very tough to start Australia because I didn’t play any matches beforehand. I was really nervous going into it. I probably wasn’t physically in the shape that I wished I was at the start of it. But then I really, I think, pulled it together and played some great tennis. Obviously, the semi was a little bit of a letdown for me, the way that I played, but also Martina played a lot better, and she didn’t give me too many chances.
INTERVIEWER: In the first set at 5-All, you broke her, she broke you right back, you got to the tiebreaker, you won that pretty easily. Did that help you to get that first set over with? Is that why you were able to dominate pretty much in the second?
MONICA SELES: I think it gave me a little bit of confidence to hit out in the second set, and the tiebreaker, the score was pretty easy. I think she made a couple of unforced errors, and that was it. Like in the second set, that 3-Love game was really important because if I would have gone up 4-Love, the match would have been won easier. But I was really lucky to hold there at 4-2 to go up to 5-2 because it could have been a tougher second set.
INTERVIEWER: Could you hear the fans cheering for you?
MONICA SELES: Oh, definitely. Oh, yeah.
INTERVIEWER: Do you enjoy that?
MONICA SELES: It kept me going, for sure, in the first set. I wasn’t having too much confidence in my game at that point. “Should I hit this ball? Should I push this ball?” I think always the first few matches when you’ve been off for a while and haven’t hit maybe as many balls, you’re not that confident. I knew against Elena, she’s played some great matches that I’ve seen this year, so I knew I’m going to have to come out and play a high level of tennis.
INTERVIEWER: You mentioned being rusty both physically and mentally. How long does it take you to work through that normally? How long does it take to get back up to where you want to be?
MONICA SELES: I think a couple of matches. I had a slight strain of ankle, so I think that’s why I couldn’t hit for a few days. And I’m a player that needs to hit a lot of balls. So I think as long as I keep practicing, hopefully tomorrow, I’m playing doubles, get some more matches. The more comfortable I feel to move on it, not to be afraid, the better I’ll play.
INTERVIEWER: Is life as a tennis player more interesting when you have to struggle and face challenges than when you dominate or just are having fun?
MONICA SELES: No. It doesn’t matter to me. I have the same problems in ’90, obviously different kind of problems than I have. ’93 is a different category. ’98 was different. I’m sure there will be many more problems and many more happy times in my life.
INTERVIEWER: Do you like being out here in the desert?
MONICA SELES: I really enjoy it. It’s really relaxed. I wish we had more tournaments on our Tour like this. You can just walk around. It’s a beautiful place.
INTERVIEWER: There are a lot of very hard-hitters out there now. Do you find or fear you may have trouble keeping up with one or two of them the way they wallop the ball?
MONICA SELES: I think so. From what I’ve seen, obviously, right now, and the girls who are now 12, 13, they’re all hitting the ball harder. They’re just going to hit them harder and harder. I think physically, they’re going to be stronger and stronger. I’m fully aware of that (laughter). I think growing up, watching players, watching Martina, Chrissy, I knew what I had to do. The same thing happened with them growing up watching Steffi and me. That’s just the way the women’s game is going. I think that’s just fantastic because that’s the challenge. I think that way you can see really, out of your career, if you got the most of it in every area.
INTERVIEWER: Can you lift your game then to another power level or is it a case of doing something else to combat that?
MONICA SELES: Well, I think power alone is still not going to win matches, I mean, against some players who have great hands, great sense of the court like against Martina. So I think it’s going to be a combination. You’ll have to have power, but consistency and physically strong. I don’t think it will just be enough to be really powerful. As we have seen, there are a few players that can hit so strong the ball that it amazes me, I think, but they have no consistency. If they would get consistency, they would for sure be Top 5 players.
INTERVIEWER: Over the last 12 months or year, year and a half, it seems like there’s a real upswing in popularity for the WTA. How much of that do you think is because of the personality of the players?
MONICA SELES: I think our Tour is in a great place. Obviously, we have such variety of personalities, game styles, and no one is dominating that much that you can just — there’s a tournament and you know who will be in the finals. So right now it’s really wide open. Obviously you still have favorites. I mean, like tomorrow you’ll have Davenport/Williams second round match. Those matches are just fantastic. I just hope that we’ll capitalize a little bit more on it and take women’s tennis to another level. It would be nice. I think a few of us who are at this age, now to be able to give back something to the Tour the same way a few of the players before us gave back before we leave this Tour, and I think it’s a great time to do that right now. I think you can just see in terms of the fans, you can have so many favorite players right now, so it’s just a great time for women’s tennis.
INTERVIEWER: With all the younger players, is it kind of hard to be considered an elder statesman at 25 on the women’s tennis circuit?
MONICA SELES: No. I think age is all in your mind. I really think the way the Tour is right now, it’s really good. I think most players get along really well, and I really like all the young players. I like their work ethic, and they kind of know where they want to go, and they’re working really hard towards their goal. Then you have the older generation, someone like Steffi who you have to give so much credit for coming back after surgery and playing some great tennis. Then you have Lindsay and Martina who are flip-flopping between 1 and 2. It’s fantastic.
INTERVIEWER: If it’s in the mind, how old do you feel?
MONICA SELES: I really don’t — I mean, I think I’m stuck at 15, personally (laughter). I’m happy about it because I had so many things happen in my life, I don’t want to become jaded about people or things. I just always kind of have a part of me that stays a kid, to be excited about a lot of things because hopefully there will be so many more things in my life that will be exciting. That’s really been just kind of one thing I have to watch out in my life.
INTERVIEWER: The match against Steffi at the Evert Cup Open, there was a lot of emotion in that one. How important a match do you think that could feature for you for this year?
MONICA SELES: I mean, obviously it was great to beat Steffi after losing to her, since I’ve come back, I think three times. Really when I go out, I absolutely go out and try to play the ball. Obviously, when I play somebody like Steffi or Martina, I know I have to rise up to the occasion. But once the match is started, I really don’t say, “Oh, my gosh, this is Steffi, I’ve got to be now focused or something,” or if it’s Martina. As soon as I do that, the way I play, I’m going to be in trouble. But it was just I think a really good confidence builder for me. But then the next day was another confidence booster (sic) also because I lost to Martina so easily.
INTERVIEWER: Could you ever see yourself, for instance, lifting weights and doing that sort of thing in a gym to get shoulders like some of these teenagers have now?
MONICA SELES: I think some of them genetically have those shoulders. A few, if you ask have they been to the gym, the answer would be no. They’re very lucky. I’m not adverse to it at all. That’s one area I’d like to improve upon, but I’d like to do it the right way, because there’s so many ways out there and so many people that I also have to be really careful because so many people, this and this, they want to work with you, and then once you find out what the program or what everything is based upon, I don’t want to do that. I want to be really cautious, really safe. You know, I have a long life after tennis ahead of me.
INTERVIEWER: It seems that in the game, personality is being sold, but there’s also a little bit of glamour and sex appeal. Is there a danger that that kind can kind of take away from the athleticism, too much emphasis on glamour?
MONICA SELES: I don’t think so. Maybe a few players worry more about how they look when they step on the court. I think the majority, you’re out there as an athlete, you’re out there to hit a ball, you’re not out there to be a model. It’s just a different life. So I don’t know.