Jon Wertheim: A conversation with Seles

Monica Seles was in town the other day and she graciously agreed to meet for coffee, talk about her status, and take some of the questions we repeatedly are asked here at Mailbag HQ.

Wertheim: We get this one at least once a day: For once and for all, what’s up with Monica Seles?

Seles: Am I retiring? (laughs)

Wertheim: No, everyone knows not to go there. What’s your prognosis?

Seles: I’ve come out from the hard cast [on her left foot] and I’ve been in this thing for four and half weeks [points to an imposing boot-like contraption on her foot]. I go for an MRI next week, they’ll send it over and we’ll see what happens after that. So I’ve been immobile for about three months. [My return] depends on the MRI, how the bone has grown back. It’s not a bone you can put a screw in. I’m wearing this boot and have special taping so it doesn’t really bother me. But I wear a bone-stimulating machine just to keep things strong. I’m not hitting on the court but I sit on a bench and hit just to keep my feel, my touch and keep my calluses. I started doing swimming and weight training. You know, after the stabbing I didn’t do anything for two-and-a-half years; but I think at this stage in my career I can’t do that and expect to be back.

Wertheim: Did you follow the Australian Open?

Seles: I would watch the good matches — men’s and women’s. I’ll check the scores [on the Internet] and I know who played the finals of Paris, Jennifer [Capriati]’s Dubai results, things like that. But everyone else has been injured.

Wertheim: Injuries are a hot Mailbag topic. What do you attribute them to?

Seles: The tours really have to look at the schedule. The WTA has done a great job listening to the players, and I think that’s important. I’m in the last stages of my career, but these girls are in the middle stages. [The injuries] are already starting at this age, and somebody has to look into that. I don’t know the solution but it’s not normal … everyone is injured and everyone is injured for a long time, too.

Wertheim: Could it be the tougher competition?

Seles: Yeah, the competition, and I think it could also be the court surface. A lot of tournaments are played on hard courts. Plus now you have to do so much more pounding on your body. The way the game is played you have to be a lot stronger, there’s a lot more wear and tear on your muscles. I was really injury-free until 1999. You need your big names to stay around. You also have to think of younger generation: the longer these players are around, obviously, the better.

Wertheim: What do you make of Justine Henin-Hardenne’s run?

Seles: It’s been amazing. I like watching her play, I really do. You know I played her last year at the Amelia Island (S.C.) tournament and I could tell she was really confident, a different player.

Wertheim: Another question that comes up a lot: Where are all the left-handers?

Seles: The left-handers are one thing, but I would really like to see more serve-and-volleyers, to have a contrasting style. Every coach now is preaching staying back. Maybe when you’re younger and you’re physically not so developed so it’s hard [to adjust to a different style], or you want the junior results and all that comes with it.

Wertheim: Ahem …

Seles: (Laughs) I know, I know. Looking back, if I had a chance to change [my playing style, I definitely would have done so. You make a few additions to your game and maybe have a few years when you aren’t as a good. Like Tiger Woods did a few years back. But you’re better off in the long run.

Wertheim: Some players are better-equipped than others to play serve-and-volley tennis. Is there one player you look at and say, “I wonder …”

Seles: Oh yeah. Serena. She volleys amazingly. When she comes back, if she adds that dimension, she’s a whole different player.

Wertheim: You’re a traditionalist, so maybe you’re not the best person to take this one. But how do you feel about adding instant replay to tennis?

Seles: Actually, I would kind of like that. It would be cool for the umpires to have. That one I’m OK with.

Wertheim: How about four-game sets?

Seles: Four game sets, changing from two serves, no-ad scoring, moving in the lines — it’s too confusing.

Wertheim: Which male players do you enjoy watching? You like [Roger] Federer as much as everyone else does?

Seles: Oh yeah. He’s a genius. You know, the first time I really watched him was last year in Rome [at the Telecom Italia Masters, where the men’s event was immediately before the women’s] and the guy is just amazing. Also Andre [Agassi] is unbelievable, still in great shape.

Wertheim: What about a guy you wouldn’t necessarily think of?

Seles: I love to watch [Fabrice] Santoro. He’s a genius. He also hits two hands off both sides. He’s one of my friends. As a two-hander you learn from him, relate to him. He’s more [pantomines slicing] and I’m more about hitting through. But I would love to take some of his game. Again, as a two-hander, it’s a totally different mentality of play.

Wertheim: Enough chitchat. Let’s get to the hardball questions. Sex And the City. Carrie Bradshaw ended up with Big. You saw that coming a mile away, right?

Seles: I actually lost a bet with friends! My prediction was that she would end up alone. I got one, though: I was sure she would move back to New York. I knew she wasn’t going to hang in Paris. No chance. We’re definitely going to miss that show. But we have another favorite: Curb Your Enthusiasm.

Wertheim: Are you my Caucasian?

Seles: [Laughs] Larry David is a genius. And I’ve never seen a single episode of Seinfeld. Every Curb Your Enthusiam is crazy, and I’m a hard person to get to laugh. That’s one good thing about not traveling. You have a normal schedule and you can plan Sunday nights.

Wertheim: Back to tennis. There’s no telling when we’ll see you again, but we will see you on the court again, correct?

Seles: I’d like to play a limited schedule. I’m not going to come back and play 16 tournaments. My body can’t handle that. I just want to finish my career on a good note. The last few tournaments were brutal. I just don’t want to leave with that memory. I don’t want to stop that way.

Wertheim: But you still have it in you?

Seles: I do. I wouldn’t be going through this if I didn’t. I’ve had to learn — and this has been hard — that even if you want to go out and play, if your body isn’t listening you have to separate the two. You think your body will follow automatically. Maybe it’s that I’m 30, but I’m listening to my body better. This is unknown territory for me. It would be different if it were a mental issue. “I’m tired. I had enough. I don’t want to do with it.” But in this case it’s going to be a question of how the body holds up.

Wertheim: And you’re OK with turning 30?

Seles: Now I’m OK. Two months ago? No. It was a big one. In tennis you feel like you’ve been around for ages, but in terms of my friends, they helped. They said, “Hey, you could be just out of college and starting to pay off your loans. Why are you complaining?” That gave me good perspective. … It’s a big milestone and it made me evaluate some things. But I’m in a very happy place in my life. After a long time, after all those issues, I have no issues.