Monica Seles never visited the International Tennis Hall of Fame until this past July, when she served as the presenter for the induction of IMG founder Mark McCormack.
Now that she knows her way there, Seles should have no trouble getting to the Newport, R.I., site next summer when she is inducted as part of the 2009 Hall of Fame class.
Though technically the list of inductees won’t be official until January, Seles’ inclusion was cemented this past week when she was placed on the ballot in an announcement during the U.S. Open.
“It is such a great honor,” said Seles, who is among the greatest women champions of all time. “Obviously, at some point I knew I was going to get in but to get in this quickly … that was a little bit of a surprise.”
It shouldn’t be. Seles clearly belongs in the Hall of Fame of a game she dominated at the height of her career.
The Sarasota resident transcended the sport to become an international celebrity during a career spiced with intrigue. Her Greta Garbo-like mystique off the court became legendary. Her shrieks when hitting the tennis ball were her calling card and are imitated by a host of players.
She will also forever be remembered as the victim of a stabbing on the court by a deranged tennis fan, an incident that robbed her of more than two years of her playing career.
It was her success on the court that paved her way to the Hall of Fame.
Seles, who remains the youngest player to win the French Open (16 years, 6 months), was ranked No. 1 for 178 weeks and won nine Grand Slam singles titles. She finished the year ranked No. 1 in the world in both 1991 and 1992 and was clearly the best player in the game when her career was interrupted in April 1993. She was stabbed just below her left shoulder blade while she sat in a chair during a changeover in a match played in Germany.
When Seles returned to the game, she won the first tournament she played, got to the semifinals of the U.S. Open and won her final Grand Slam event the following January in Australia. But she never dominated like she had before the stabbing.
She last played at the 2003 French Open, where she lost in the first round. Foot problems eventually ended her playing career.
“This is one of those once-in-a-lifetime things. It finishes the career I had,” Seles said about the Hall of Fame.
She is currently at the U.S. Open, where she is attending various functions and preparing for a talk show she will host beginning today on Siruis radio. The show, called “The Monica Seles Challenge: Five Weeks to Jump Start Your Life,” is designed to help inspire listeners to have a happier, healthier, more confident life.
“It is really about women’s issues, about weight loss and mind and body connection,” Seles said. “There won’t be much sports, except that I can draw on my background. It is about women talking and sharing information. I am excited about that.”
Seles is keeping a busy schedule, which includes writing a book, speaking engagements and her pet project of enticing children to exercise.
“Just to get them to move and get some fresh air in their little lungs,” she says.
There had been a plan to play an exhibition match this week with Martina Navratilova but a torn labrum in her shoulder will keep Seles from picking up a tennis racket for several months.
Just because she isn’t playing tennis doesn’t mean that Seles is out of shape. She has completely remodeled her body, which she believes will help her relate to people in her new radio endeavor.
“I overcame my own weight loss and the emotional side that comes with it,” she said. “I believe in it so much. My heart is in it.”
Seles admits that her recent appearance on the “Dancing with the Stars” TV show was more difficult than she expected, yet she insists she has no regrets.
“When I signed up for it I thought it would be different,” she said. “I didn’t really think it through too much. I had never done any of those artistic things. I was always more sports oriented.”
Though she was the first female dancer to be voted off this past season, she felt the time on the show gave America a chance to see a different side of her.
“Most people had only seen me in tennis outfits and I always had an aggressive look on my face because I was hitting a tennis ball,” she said. “People got to see that there was a woman out there.
“It was an exciting experience and I am happy I did it.”
And the tennis world should be happy she made a career out of playing the game.