NEW YORK (Reuters) – She hates going out to battle, but loves hitting tennis balls. No longer able to keep up with the new kids on the block, she is still deeply in love with the sport.
Monica Seles has a lot of thinking to do.
A 6-2 6-3 defeat by Venus Williams in the quarter-finals of the U.S. Open Wednesday underlined yet again that the 28-year old is unlikely to ever challenge again for top honors.
A little slower than at her best and overtaken in the power stakes by a younger breed, the once irrepressible Seles now has her limitations.
No-one could ever call her a failure, however.
At the Australian Open this year she beat Williams to reach the semi-finals, and she was also a quarter-finalist at both the French Open and Wimbledon.
There were semi-finals at Indian Wells, Miami, the Paris indoor event and Dubai, a runner-up finish in Tokyo, and even two tournament victories, in Doha and Madrid.
But those titles came against comparatively weak opposition. When it comes to the grand slams or top level tournaments, the chance of her lifting the trophy is now remote.
Despite a trophy cabinet that boasts nine grand slam titles, she’s now a step slower than the new kids on the block, and it’s harder to grind out match after match no matter how much she loves to hit tennis balls.
“Right now I’m really enjoying it, working hard. If my body allows it I’d like to keep playing,” she said. “I’ll keep playing tennis for ever, really.
“It would be impossible, I think, to do something you love since you were six or seven and then suddenly stop at 28 or 30 or 32. It’s been too big a part of my life.”
But although she loves the game, she doesn’t like going out to battle. She never played with the goal of becoming world number one or winning grand slam titles.
They just followed.
“I never liked the competition part at all, because it’s hard. I just love to play tennis,” said Seles. “I wish we didn’t have to go out there and win and lose, because that’s very tough emotionally.
“Even if you win a tournament, the next week you have to play again and you never get time to enjoy it.”
She admits there have been distractions recently.
“Any matches I’ve gone into the last few months, it’s been a struggle for me mentally for different reasons. Nothing to do with tennis. I haven’t made anything complicated. Unfortunately it’s all been other people.
“It’s just made me do what I have to do,” she said, while refusing to explain what has disturbed her.
There can only be speculation that she might now be finding herself pushed aside by sponsors as the spotlight turns to the younger generation.
Maybe she just wants to lead a normal life after being a tennis gypsy since she was a kid.
“I do believe tennis is a young game,” she said. “Definitely the younger, the better. They have more attention, more sponsors and all that stuff. You look at other sports, and you can peak later on in your life.
“But we start the game so long and you have to have a very focused life-style. You have no off-season. How long are you willing to sacrifice that stuff?
“It’s easier for guys. They can have their wives and kids travel with them. For women it’s a lot tougher for a lot of different reasons. In my case, I’ve always said I’m just going to play competitively for as long as I enjoy it, as long as my body lets me play.
“When the time will come for me to retire, I have no idea. It could come after this tournament, or two years after this tournament. I have no idea. But I do know one thing. I’ll play tennis for ever because it’s a sport that I love.
“I’ve been very lucky to actually make a living at it and not just have it as a hobby while I have another job,” she said.