STANFORD, Calif. — Despite just returning from her longest injury layoff in six years, Monica Seles remains dedicated to tennis and maintains that she has no plans to retire soon.
Although the 27-year-old former No. 1 has been on the WTA Tour for 13 years and notched up nine Grand Slam victories, she remains intensely private and gives little away.
She does, however, make it clear that when she does decide to call it a day, it will be a surprise to everyone but herself, friends and family.
“I’ve been asked retirement questions for the last five years,” Seles told Reuters in an exclusive interview. “I won’t be making a fuss about it when it happens, I’ll just finish playing.
“If someone wants to have a one-year farewell tour then that’s fantastic, but it’s also fine to just slip away quietly. It’s really up to the individual,” she said. Seles is playing at this week’s at the $565,000 Bank of the West Classic in Stanford after completing just two matches in the last five months due to a foot injury.
When Seles topped the world rankings at the beginning of the last decade, her main rivals were Steffi Graf, Martina Navratilova, Gabriela Sabatini and Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario.
Of those four, only Sanchez-Vicario is still playing.
But Seles herself doesn’t think past the next major tournament. “I really try to stay in the present, and the way my life is going in all aspects,” she said.
“I do what’s expected in order to stay at this level without dwelling on the past or thinking about the future too much.”
Seles has been a fixture in the second week of the Grand Slams since she returned to the tour in August 1995, two and a half years after she was stabbed by a crazed German at Hamburg in Aprl 1993.
However, since her return she has only managed to win one Grand Slam — the 1996 Australian Open — and has been unable to come close to retaking the No. 1 ranking that she once held for 178 weeks.
At the end of last year, she did began to regain her form and gave her best performance for some time when just losing out to current number one Martina Hingis in a three set classic in the Chase Championships final last November.
She ended the year ranked No. 4 and felt that she was as close as she’s ever been to reaching the top once more.
“I played so well at the (Chase) Championships — it was the best I played last year.
“Going into the Australian Open [in January], I was fine physically but not fit enough to play all those matches.
“I played too much tennis over a four-week period, both singles and doubles. After that, I started to feel my injury again,” she said.
Seles was knocked out of the Australian Open by eventual winner Jennifer Capriati in three tough sets.
Its a loss she regrets after having beaten Capriati so often in the past — without any prior defeats in a Grand Slam event. But she remains full of praise for her American rival.
“It goes through your head, especially when you had chances to win the match like I had in the second set. But then again,. she went on to beat Lindsay (Davenport) and Martina (Hingis), which were bigger matches than she had against me.
“It was great to see that and no one expected her to do what she did this year,” Seles added.
The biggest question for Seles is whether she can regain her once steely confidence and learn to close out matches against the elite players like Hingis, Venus Williams, Mary Pierce and Davenport.
“Last year, I went through patches where I played so well,” Seles said. “It was one of my most interesting years because I didn’t lose to anyone outside the top four and it was just frustrating to lose to the same players.
“Fitness came into play, too, and my wanting to win certain matches more than believing I could win them. But the more you work on certain things, the more it helps your confidence.”
Currently ranked No. 10 and with little match play, Seles realises it will be difficult to start grabbing titles immediately.
But she still believes she can win another Grand Slam title. “I think so,” she said. “Only time will tell. I can sit here and tell you that I can, but we’ll see as time goes.
If I put in the work and if I want and all those things come together. I do want it.”
In a bid to get her back to the top, Seles has just hired former ATP Tour player Mike Sell as her new coach and hitting partner.
“Mike and I are going to start trying it out next week,” Seles said. “We’ll start with him as a hitting partner but I think he has enough experience in the game to help me as a coach. But will see where it goes.”
Seles had been coached by her father Karolj for her entire career until he died in May 1998. Since then, she has worked with coaches Harold Solomon, Gavin Hopper and up until recently, Bobby Banck, who she still consults with weekly.