At 34, Seles aims for a tennis comeback

The former top-ranked player hopes to be back on the women’s tour by March, and she’ll be in an exhibition in Los Angeles on Saturday.

Sunday was Monica Seles’ 34th birthday, and with it came news that would be a gift to tennis fans.

She is considering a comeback.

The nine-time winner of the sport’s Grand Slam events will be in Los Angeles Saturday, as a participant in the first Bank of the West Pro-Celebrity Tennis Classic. Hosts of the event are former players Luke and Murphy Jensen, who raise money for a foundation that funds youth-oriented charities. It will be an all-day event at Riviera Country Club, ending with an evening gala.

The Riviera event is exhibition tennis, and Seles will be joined by other former stars such as Jennifer Capriati, Carling Bassett-Seguso and her husband, Robert; Justin Gimelstob and the Jensens.

But by March, specifically at the major tournament hosted each year in Miami, Seles may be striking the tennis ball in real competition after what would then be nearly a five-year layoff.

She played her last match at the 2003 French Open, an event she had won three times. She lost to Nadia Petrova in the first round and hasn’t played competitive tennis since, other than a few matches in TeamTennis.

She had sprained her ankle badly in the Australian Open that year and lost in the second round. By the time the French came around, she had such severe back and foot problems that she had to stop playing after her loss.

There never was any retirement announcement. She just kind of went away.

She was told the back injury would take at least nine months to heal, and the foot injury, caused by a bone that still needs to be removed but will not allow her to play effectively again if it is, continued to linger.

Soon, Seles was retired in the minds of tennis fans, if not in her mind.

She lives in Sarasota, Fla., and is surrounded by people in the area that she can and does play with now, including Capriati, Jimmy Arias and Martina Navratilova.

“I still love to play. That has never lessened,” she said. “And what I know now, I wish I had known then. Like stretching more, before and after matches. You’d go out and win, 6-3, 6-1, and say that was easy and you wouldn’t stretch.”

She said she has been inspired by the comebacks of the likes of Lindsay Davenport, who had a baby in the summer and was back playing at her usual high level by the fall, and swimmer Dara Torres, who came back at age 40.

“What Lindsay did was just so cool,” Seles said.

Seles was the No. 1 player in the world in 1991 and 1992. Starting with the French Open in 1990, she won eight of the next 12 Grand Slams, while not even playing at Wimbledon in 1991. After she won the Australian in ’93, she was playing in a match in Hamburg, Germany, when, in April ’93 , during a break in her match when she was seated courtside, a man named Guenter Parche came down from the stands and stabbed her in the back. She didn’t play again until August, 1995, and won only one more Grand Slam, the 1996 Australian.

“I guess I kind of had two tennis careers,” Seles said.

And now, perhaps a third.

“I certainly would not ever be able to do a full schedule again, because of the foot,” she said, “but I’m thinking about the Slams and about some of the better tournaments that lead into them.

“I won’t decide for sure until the beginning of the year, and the Australian is certainly not possible. But Miami. Maybe.”