Monica Seles visits Naples in effort to re-energize women’s tennis

Retired and now an ambassador for her sport, Monica Seles is trying to increase the exposure of tennis in the United States.

Seles has watched the popularity of tennis fall thanks to a decrease in recognizable American names in the game. The only Americans to win a men’s or women’s Grand Slam title the past eight years are Serena and Venus Williams.

“In women’s tennis, and even men’s tennis, at the moment I can’t think of one name to tell you,” other than the Williams sisters, Seles said Friday morning during a promotional appearance at Kensington Golf and Country Club in Naples.

The former No. 1 player in the world and nine-time Grand Slam champion hopes to bring Americans back to tennis through events like the one at Kensington. Seles gave out free lessons in a short clinic as part of the Cadillac Golf and Tennis Taste Drive.

Nearly 300 people were expected to participate in the event, which also feature golf lessons from three-time PGA Teacher of the Year Mike Shannon and a cooking demonstration from Michael Ragusa, chef at Fort Myers restaurant the Sandy Butler.

Though Friday’s early morning crowd at Kensington was mostly people around retirement age, Seles said the future of tennis in the United States lies in the crop of young players.

“There are some really talented juniors,” Seles said. “Hopefully one or two will make it through. So often you see all the Eastern European players like myself coming to the U.S. and making their mark here because of the facilities and the coaches. It’s just inspiring the kids.”

Seles, a month shy of her 38th birthday, said she does a lot of kids clinics. She can’t play singles because of the foot injury that caused her to officially retire in 2008. She hasn’t played professionally since 2003, but Seles still plays some doubles exhibitions.

In the spring of 2003 Seles lost to Serena Williams in an exhibition match at Naples Bath and Tennis Club, just around the corner from Kensington.

“I was very excited Cadillac invited me to come back to such a beautiful place,” Seles, who lives in Florida, said of Naples.

In between appearances, clinics and exhibitions, Seles puts down her racket and picks up a pen. She is in the process of finishing her first novel in a three-book series about a fictional sports academy.

“It’s kind of like a Beverly Hills 90210 except with harder bodies,” Seles said.

Seles branched out of tennis in 2008 when she was on Season 6 of “Dancing With the Stars.” She was the second celebrity eliminated.

“I had a great time … but I was just terrible,” Seles said. “I have two left feet. I’ll stick to tennis.”