1999 Family Circle Cup – Telephone Interview

February 16, 1999

MS. REYNOLDS: I’d like to introduce Susan Ungaro,editor-in-chief of Family Circle Magazine, who has a special announcement for today.

MS. UNGARO: It’s always a thrill for us to talk about the Family Circle Cup, but it’s even more exciting when we can talk about the “Player Who Makes A Difference” award. We started this award in 1992, to recognize tennis players who practiced the version of “to serve” off the court as well as on. We really are delighted this year to name Monica Seles as our 1999 “Player Who Makes A Difference” winner. Many of you, I’m sure are very familiar with Monica’s history in tennis. We are doing a major profile in our April issue of Family Circle magazine about Monica and her off-court contributions.
There is a column in the magazine where we highlight women who make a difference. This award which we started eight years ago really grew out of the women who make a difference concept in Family Circle. We really believe that we can inspire women with stories of ordinary, extraordinary women who are doing things to help the community. Monica has done all that and more. In addition to all of her accomplishments on the court, Monica has really been somebody that makes a difference in the lives of children. She has really taken up the cause of kids who have special needs. As Shelby Anderson, who is a 12-year-old child Monica met through the efforts of Starlight Children’s Foundation, was quoted as saying that Monica knows what it’s like to lose everything and then have to fight to get it back again. I think the words of that 12-year-old really does mirror Monica’s devotion to doing things for kids and making a difference. I want to congratulate Monica on behalf of Family Circle. We look forward to seeing you there, Monica.

MS. REYNOLDS: Thank you, Susan. Monica, at this time I’d like to tell the media where you want some of your award money to go to, and then I’ll let you say something about the award and how it feels to win it. Monica will use the award money to assist a number of organizations including Special Olympics, Kids Stuff Foundation and Operation Smile. Special Olympics is an international program that offers year-round sports training and athletic competition to more than one million children and adults with mental retardation. She’s also giving money to the Kids’ Stuff Foundation, which is an organization founded by former tour player Andrea Jaeger in 1990 and is a nonprofit organization which its main goal is to bring joy to the lives of children with cancer and other life-threatening medical conditions. Another organization that Monica wants to give some of the $20,000 to is Operation Smile, which is a not-for-profit organization that brings together health professionals from the public and private sectors that volunteer their time and expertise in giving reconstructive facial surgery to indigent children and young adults. Monica, I’ll let you speak now about winning the award and what it means to you.

MS. SELES: I feel very honored to win the Player Who Makes A Difference award. Obviously, I’m in an unbelievable group of past winners. I was very excited to hear that I had won the award. Even though the past few years have been really tough, as a tennis player I’m so lucky to be able to do what I love to do and at the same time meet so many unbelievable people. If I can make a little bit of difference in anybody’s life, it’s awesome. The biggest reward is that they make such a difference in my life too, and its wonderful to be recognized for that. From a tennis point of view the Family Circle Cup, the tournament, is one of my favorites on the tour, so I’m just looking forward to coming there in a few weeks. It should be a very special night.

MS. REYNOLDS: Great. Thank you, Monica. We’re certainly looking forward to you coming as well. I’m going to go ahead and open it up for questions.

QUESTION: Monica, do you feel better going into this year than last year? I know last year you weren’t able to play in all the tournaments early in the year. Do you think that will help you get off to a faster start this year?

MS. SELES: Oh, definitely. I definitely feel a lot more ready. I have a greater peace of mind this year at this time than I had last year. I feel my last few tournaments were good, and I have a good couple of weeks of more training to do, but I feel really comfortable. I love the Family Circle site and I have a lot of friends there, so it’s just a great week.

QUESTION: Monica, could you talk about the field a little bit. I think with four out of the Top 5 there, the only one that is not there right now is Lindsay Davenport. Analyze the field for us.

MS. SELES: It’s very strong. Family Circle Cup is a Tier I event. It’s the only clay court Tier I in the States and it’s a million dollar prize money, so they always have a very strong field. There are no easy matches, but I think that’s what the fans want to see. And they have great fan support down there. So it’s going to be a tough one, but that’s what you want as a tennis player, a tough field.

QUESTION: Monica, your career has really obviously had ups and downs, so many more ups than downs, of course, but I wondered at this juncture in your career when you compare it to back when you were on top of the world and winning tournament after tournament, where do you see your game now? Are you close to being back at where you were at one time?

MS. SELES: I think so. If I keep really working hard this year and hopefully have no — not distractions, but things that have happened in the last five years because really no other tennis player has had to deal with that many things. They just have to worry about hitting the ball. If I can have that for the next couple of years, that will definitely help. So that is my main goal. I’m really committed to what I can control and just see where it’s going to take me.

QUESTION: I was reading the article about you in the Tennis Magazine and there was an interesting quote that you had, I thought, in that you said you love tennis as much as you always have, but that you don’t necessarily like the competition aspect of it. Could you expand on that a little bit and can you tell me if that has always been the case for you?

MS. SELES: Oh, it’s always been. It was even worse in the juniors. I hated it, because in the juniors I had so many friends. I mean it’s just so tough when you play a friend because no matter what, at that point if you win or lose, it’s tough on the relationship, and obviously I hate to play my friends on the tour now, but it’s part of it. So it’s tough. It’s really just a sport that you have this competition win or lose, so I’m not too crazy on that, but I know it’s part of it, and I’m also very competitive when I step on the court. It’s one area that I’m trying to work upon to be a little bit more competitive in that sense and love to compete more, but my personality is not like that, but I’m trying to improve there.

QUESTION: The last two times you’ve had some real strong tournaments and won a big match and then the next match you’ve been beaten. Is there a reason for this?

MS. SELES: Do you mean the Australian Open? I just Martina was playing some unbelievable tennis. At that day she was just better no matter if I had a five- day rest between the Graf match. She has shown that I think in Australia the way she beat Mauresmo in the final and on to Tokyo the next week. She is playing some very solid tennis, and to beat Martina I will have to make quite a lot of improvement and that’s what I will try to do.

QUESTION: While you’re talking about Martina, just talk about her game this year. Is it different from the past? She was No. 1 and then she lost and now she’s back again.

MS. SELES: I just think Lindsay was playing some unbelievable tennis. She also started off really well beginning of this year in Sydney. So it’s going to go back and forth a little bit, I think, the competition is so much stronger. I don’t think Martina is playing better, but I think it’s going in cycles. Some months Martina is playing better, some months Lindsay is playing better. So I think it’s going to go back and forth a little bit, but she just plays very solid tennis from every part of her game, and mentally she was very strong and that’s why I think she came out as the winner.

QUESTION: Do you think you have a chance to get back to No. 1 this year?

MS. SELES: I think to No. 1 in terms of rankings it’s going to be a very difficult one, but there are still 11 more months to be played, so that’s definitely one of my goals for sure.

QUESTION: You know the Family Circle obviously is a very popular tournament for most of the players. What do you think in your opinion makes it so special and sets it apart from other tour events?

MS. SELES: I just think the people who run the tournament are just fantastic. They take great care of the players. I think that’s one of the reasons the players love to come there. And the other reason is the fans. The fans are just great. I think they’re the best fans anywhere, and obviously the setting is beautiful, so it’s definitely one of my favorite tournaments on the tour, and I think for a lot of other players. And we also have our own player talent night there, so it’s really very fun.

QUESTION: You were training with Gavin Hopper last year. He is no longer with you. Could you talk about what happened there and how is your fitness level?

MS. SELES: We just decided to go our separate ways for different reasons. My fitness level is fine. I’m working with another trainer and I’m really happy with him. I keep making improvements, nothing dramatic, but really slow and steady improvements which I want to keep doing. And that’s pretty much it.

QUESTION: Who is your new trainer?

MS. SELES: It’s Vern Gambete.

QUESTION: I think I’m correct in this that you only played Hilton Head for first time a couple of years ago.(1997) MS. SELES: Couple of years ago, yes.

QUESTION: I was wondering why that was. I think at the time you said you wondered when you came and saw what it was like, you asked yourself why didn’t I play this in the past.

MS. SELES: I did. I know. I think just the way the schedule was in the early 90s till ’92 because the last year for me on the tour was very tough and that’s really the only reason why I didn’t play.

MS. REYNOLDS: I think there was maybe one or two years, Monica, where you had an injury just prior to, I believe, as well.

MS. SELES: I know one year I fell off my bike.

QUESTION: Right. Exactly.

MS. SELES: It was terrible. I know that one. But I was very happy that finally I did come because I keep coming back now every year.

QUESTION: What about your game as it adapts to the clay? I mean obviously everyone has to make an adjustment to the clay, but is it tougher for you because of the type of game you have?

MS. SELES: It’s a little bit of a tough adjustment, especially if you do well the week prior at Lipton because it’s so quick, and now that Lipton has moved to a Sunday final, it’s going to be a tough one, but it’s still an easier adjustment than going the other way around. It’s a tough one. It takes a few days, especially the first couple of matches, but as a professional you know you have to do it and you have no other choice.

QUESTION: Have you set any sort of goals for yourself this year?

MS. SELES: I really try to do very well at Grand Slams. That’s been kind of my goal. Obviously I did very well at the Australian, but I’d still like to improve upon that.

QUESTION: Do you think you can win a Grand Slam this year? Where do you think your best shot is of the ones that are left?

MS. SELES: Well, there are three more left.– I did the best last year at the French, but in my mind it really just depends on me and the preparation that I’m going to put in, and hopefully I’ll be really good about following through and all that and just see how it goes. I mean it’s a long two weeks. If you work hard at it and you want it bad enough, it’s just a very good possibility.

QUESTION: Where do you put yourself as far as are you back fully or do you think maybe you’re 95 percent?

MS. SELES: Well, in terms of training, I think really for the first time starting this week I’ll have a strong routine, because even December last year I had a tough time a little bit, so it’s been tough. I’ve had no training really in the last 15 months. Training has been periodic, so this year I committed to train fully. That’s what I want to do and that’s really what my priority over everything else in my life. And I’m very committed to do that, to make some adjustments in my life. And this is what I want to do. I want to be back there at the top and being committed with every part of my life.

QUESTION: Gavin last year had said he felt that you were probably, at least toward the end of last year, the first of this year, as good as you had ever been, but that the competition has maybe caught up with you a little bit. And in the past when you’ve been asked that, you said you felt like you hadn’t quite reached your past level. How do you see that?

MS. SELES: Well, I think when I see like in the past my videotapes or some of the tests that my dad used to do with me, I’m probably about 65 percent there what I’m doing right now, two months ago, so I don’t think so. I really think the same players still have a very good shot at it. I mean the one thing that has changed, I think, from the past is that you used to have maybe three, four players who were at that level which now you have probably 10 players at the top level. To me that’s what has changed from the past.

QUESTION: You mentioned a number of 65 percent. If you were back up to 100 percent, do you think —

MS. SELES: I think if I practice a lot, I mean I didn’t play a single ball for two-and-a-half years, and then I hit every week once or twice. I mean if you become No. 1 that way, then I think something is wrong with tennis or in any other sport, really. So I’ve never had those expectations of myself because I knew they would be very unrealistic ones. But it’s so hard to compare back then because it was five or six years ago. Gavin was in women’s tennis at that point, so I mean it’s a tough one. I just want to be in the present and try to worry about the future and learn from the past.

QUESTION: Talk a little bit about the tour. You look at the field and you got the young people coming up and you got the people who were up in their late 30s. Where do you see yourself?

MS. SELES: I think probably I guess in the middle, although for not playing all those years, I think it saved a lot of stress on my body and probably mentally, too, but then you take a lot of girls like Martina who is so much more mature than her age, same way I think Steffi and I were much more mature than average 18- or 19-year-olds. So you know, she’s the only one who has really proven herself up to this point. I mean the other ones have a way to go to win a couple of Grand Slam titles, but I think that is what is so great about women’s tennis right now is that you have the generation of Steffi and Jana who are still playing unbelievable tennis and still are winning Grand Slams. Then you have me who is kind of in the middle, really no one else at that age. And then you have the younger ones like Venus or Anna, and then have No. 1 Martina Hingis. And then you have Lindsay again at 22. She’s not young, but not in the middle. So you have everything out there. It’s such a variety that I don’t think women’s tennis has had in a long, long time.