MELBOURNE, Australia – Monica Seles won’t be featuring in the second week at the Australian Open for the first time in eight trips to the season-opening Grand Slam.
After beating first-round rival Slovakia’s Lubomira Kurhajcova in 6-0, 6-1 in the first round here at Melbourne Park, Seles said she was “at the very happy stage in my career where my body is still letting me play.”
Perhaps she spoke too soon.
Four-time champion Seles, seeded to meet top-ranked Serena Williams in the quarterfinals, sprained her left ankle in the third game Thursday against Klara Koukalova and limped out in a 6-7 (6),7-5, 6-3 loss to the Czech, ranked No. 113 and contesting her first Grand Slam.
The 29-year-old Seles said she rolled her left ankle attempting to change direction when she was wrong-footed by Koukalova.
“I was in bad pain, it’s an ankle sprain,” Seles, seeded sixth, said afterwards. “I knew I was in trouble. I tried to fight it out there, but she was just too good.”
After getting treatment from the trainer as she sat on the court, Seles moved to the chairs on the sideline to have the injured ankle strapped and get some painkillers.
She’ll have a medical scan Friday to gauge the extent of the damage.
In the meantime, “I just want to get out of the pain, because I’ve been in it for the past two-and-a-half hours,” she told reporters.
She said the Rebound Ace courts at Melbourne Park were “stickier” than other surfaces.
“It surprised me today because it really wasn’t hot,” she said.
Seles said Koukalova forced her to run and “I was just a step slower. I couldn’t change directions.”
Koukalova sealed the win with a drop shot, before raising both arms in triumph. On debut at a Grand Slam event, she reached the third round and counted a win over a former No. 1.
“I’m very happy. I couldn’t believe I actually won,” Koukalova said. “Monica is a top-10 player so it’s unbelievable.”
The 20-year-old Czech lost in the second round of qualifying here last year. Thursday’s win lifts her into the top 100 for the first time, she said.
“I think she was running normally, I don’t know,” when asked if Seles’ injury had made a difference.
The loss was a blow for Seles, who beat Venus Williams in the quarterfinals here last year before losing to Martina Hingis in the semis.
Though not among the main contenders to the Williams sisters, she was expecting to make at least the quarterfinals, something she’d achieved at all seven previous trips to Melbourne.
The last of her Grand Slam titles also came here in 1996, her only major title after returning to the tour following the stabbing incident in April 1993.
Koukalova, whose father is a taxi driver and mother works at a bar, started playing tennis at age seven in Prague. As a kid, she admired tennis great Martina Navratilova, who was also born in Prague but later became a U.S. citizen.