Nagging foot injury leaves Seles’ future uncertain

NEW YORK — She was once depicted as Madonna and Greta Garbo rolled into one: bold, outgoing and spotlight-seeking one minute, and then imperious, mysterious and incognito the next. Lately, however, two-time U.S. Open champion Monica Seles is just MIA.

With many of the WTA Tour stars back at the U.S. Open after missing last year’s tournament, Seles is the biggest name in the women’s game still sidelined. The tennis world waits and wonders: Is she gone for good?

Seles, who is doing promotional work for American Express in New York City this week, says she is not ready to hang up her rackets. “I’ve thought about it a lot the last few years, even when I was playing,” says Seles, 30, who has not played a tour match in 15 months. “I’m very happy either way.”

The Yugoslavia-born American last played in May 2003 when she lost in the first round of the French Open. A debilitating foot injury has kept her trademark two-fisted shots off the tour.

“It has been a very frustrating time for me because it comes and goes,” Seles says of the pain caused by a crack in the sesamoid bone in her left foot.

Seles says she loves and misses her sport so much, she can barely tolerate watching it, though she plans to attend some matches at Flushing Meadows this week.

“Any time you’re at a tennis tournament it’s hard,” she says. “For me it’s easier to watch the men’s than the women’s matches.”

With nine major singles titles, the Sarasota, Fla., resident is a lock for the International Tennis Hall of Fame. She still holds more titles (53) than any active player (except the reborn doubles specialist Martina Navratilova).

Seles knows the clock is ticking but doesn’t know if or when she’ll be able to return. “I know what level I would be happy coming back,” she says, “and if I can’t be at that level, that’s when I’ll decide to retire.”

Known for her unparalleled killer instinct, Seles became a sympathetic figure in 1993 when she was stabbed in the back by a deranged Steffi Graf fan. Seles had been on a blistering pace with more Grand Slam titles than any 19-year-old in history. But unlike the dark and difficult two-plus years after the stabbing, Seles says the time off has been enjoyable, if exasperating.

“It’s been nice to have a life,” she says. “The biggest thing was not to feel the pressure of packing and unpacking again and again and not having to say to friends, ‘See you in a month’s time.’ “