Mighty Monica

Monica Seles has always been exceptional. The day she played in her first professional tournament at the age of 14 she reduced her opponent to tears of frustration, and she’ll go down in history as one of the greatest players of all time.
She might have been THE best if not for the outrageous attack on her by a Steffi Graf fan that put her out of the game for more than two years just as she was proving to be almost invincible.

Fans in Dubai will be able to see the legend in person when Seles competes in the Dubai Tennis Championships. Owned and organised by Dubai Duty Free and held under the patronage of HH General Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Minister of Defence, UAE, play will get underway at the Dubai Tennis Stadium on 18th February.

For a long time after she was stabbed on the centre court of the Rothenbaum Club in Hamburg in 1993, Seles couldn’t bear the idea of returning to a tennis court. Torn between her love of tennis and her fear, she became a recluse, locking herself in her room, refusing to confide in anyone, even the family that meant more to her than anything in the world. What made things even worse was that within days of being stabbed, she learnt that her father was suffering from cancer.

Eventually, she was persuaded to undergo therapy and, with the loving care of family and friends, Monica decided to return to the stage. She did so in spectacular fashion, winning the Canadian Open while breaking a tournament record for the least number of games lost.

“Monica’s story is one of tremendous courage and determination and we’re delighted that she will be playing in the Dubai Duty Free Women’s Open,” said Colm McLoughlin, Managing Director of Dubai Duty Free. “Spectators at Dubai Tennis Stadium have watched great champions in the past, but few can claim as much public affection as Monica. We look forward to witnessing the next chapter of her remarkable career in Dubai.”

Although she would rarely be able to rise again to the phenomenal heights she reached before the attack, Monica has remained firmly inside the top 10. After her return she won the 1996 Australian Open and reached the US Open final the same year. And in 1998 she also reached the French Open final just three weeks after the death of her father.

But it is as a sensitive and caring human being that Monica has remained second to none. Somehow, despite being one of the greatest players the world has seen and earning millions and millions of dollars with people ready to attend to her every whim, Monica has kept her feet firmly on the ground.

She’s just so normal, as two incidents at the US Open demonstrate. She once attended a post-match press conference soaked from a storm, and dripped rain all over the interview table. But instead of just leaving the mess for someone else to clean up as most players would, she found a towel and did it herself.

Monica is so open and makes friends easily, but values her private life very highly. You won’t see her mates filling the player box at tournaments, because she doesn’t want them recognised and harassed afterwards. They are friends who have known her for a long time and have been with her through the hard times as well as the good, and they are her escape into the ‘real’ world, away from the self-centred millionaires who inhabit her professional environment.

She does talk to people, and one thing that led her back into tennis was talking with a down-and-out in the street one day, and realising how lucky she was compared to him. But the major influence was when she did a tennis clinic for some disabled kids and was so moved by their ability to overcome their disadvantage in life that she decided her problems were minor compared to what they were suffering. So, in the nicest possible way, she was able to benefit from her own compassion for others.

She has a particularly soft spot for children, and makes sure she signs as many autographs for them as she can. “It’s good to see the little kids,” she said, “because I see myself in their eyes a lot of the time. I still have Bjorn Borg’s autograph at home, in a case with a racquet that Yannick Noah gave me.”

Despite her fortune, Monica likes the simple things in life. She doesn’t throw her money around and drives a modest car.

“Compared to most other athletes I know I live pretty modestly,” she said. “I’m pretty sensible with my money. I’ve come from nothing and really wouldn’t like to go back there. Tennis has given me that luxury and I’d like to one day have a family and give them security. But hopefully not spoil them because money can be a huge spoiler of people’s ambition.”

And although she’s looking forward to having more time to get away and she’ll be happy to indulge her mother in five-star luxury somewhere, she has much simpler ideas for herself.

“I’d love to go backpacking and stuff like that,” she revealed. “I’d love to go to India, Nepal, Morocco, Egypt, I’d love to do that. I think there’d be nothing greater than getting two or three girls and guys – because you need a guy for protection the way the world is going these days – and going into Yellowstone Park in the States just to get away. It would be awesome. I’d love that.”

Meanwhile, she does get the opportunity to do things most people wouldn’t get the chance of, and a few weeks ago in Australia she got up at 4am to satisfy a long-standing ambition.

“I went swimming with dolphins in the wild,” she said. “I’ve had so many chances in captivity but I didn’t want to do that. Then there was a time I had in Brazil, riding horses on the beach. That was truly magnificent. I did some dog-sleighing in Colorado. I love animals, so things like that are really special and I’m very lucky that I’ve been able to do that because I play tennis.

“I don’t really get away from tennis much now. I managed to take three or four days off in China, but I’ve only got a limited time left and I want to make the most of it. Once I stop playing competitively then I’ll take a year off and hopefully I’ll just travel and slow down my pace. I’d love to go skiing more, scuba diving. I’d love to parachute, things I cannot do right now.”

Those things will have to wait. First, there’s business to be done at the Dubai Tennis Championships.