The 12-month period that led her to No. 1 saw her win 10 tournaments and 63 of 67 matches—and three of the four losses were bare misses.
It was on March 11, 1991, exactly 30 years ago to this day, when Monica Seles, one of the most accomplished players in tennis history, rose to No. 1 for the first time on the WTA rankings.
And it came fast—she was just 17 and hadn’t even played three full years on the tour—but the 12-month period between March 1990 and March 1991 that led her to the top ranking was undeniable.
She won 10 of the 14 tournaments she played, capturing her first two Grand Slam titles at the 1990 French Open and 1991 Australian Open, as well as the 1990 WTA Finals. She also won 63 of the 67 matches she played, and three of her four losses were bare misses: she fell to Zina Garrison in the 1990 Wimbledon quarterfinals, 3-6, 6-3, 9-7; to Linda Ferrando in the third round of the 1990 US Open, 1-6, 6-1, 7-6 (3); and to Amy Frazier in the 1990 Tokyo quarterfinals, 5-7, 7-5, 6-2. Her only straight-sets loss in those 12 months came to Martina Navratilova in the 1991 Indian Wells final, 6-2, 7-6 (6).
Seles became the fifth No. 1 in WTA rankings history, following in the footsteps of Chris Evert, Evonne Goolagong, Navratilova and Steffi Graf, who had spent the last 186 weeks in a row at No. 1.
She also became the youngest No. 1 in WTA rankings history—only one player has managed to one-up Seles since then in that stat, namely Martina Hingis, who got to the top as a 16-year-old in 1997.
Seles admitted she had felt some pressure to get to No. 1 in the years leading up to it.
“Since I came onto the scene, everyone said, ‘She’s the next No. 1,’ and I wondered if I don’t reach No. 1, what would happen to me; would I be just another hotshot?” she told the New York Times.
“But now I’ve done it.”
She would go on to win her next four Grand Slam finals as well, at the 1991 French Open, 1991 US Open, 1992 Australian Open and 1992 French Open, making her the first player in the Open Era, male or female, to win more than their first three major finals in a row. Roger Federer would join her in the 2000s, winning his first seven, and Naomi Osaka is now the third player to do it, going 4-0 so far.
Back then, being No. 1 was much rarer. In the first 22-and-a-half years of the WTA rankings, only seven women spent time there: Evert, Goolagong, Navratilova, Graf, Seles, Arantxa-Sanchez-Vicario and Hingis. But in the last 22-and-a-half years, there have been 20 more women to reach No. 1.
Seles’ 178 career weeks at No. 1 still ranks sixth-most in WTA rankings history, trailing only Graf (377), Navratilova (332), Serena Williams (319), Evert (260) and Hingis (209). And we’ll never know how much higher that tally (and her Grand Slam haul) would have been had a deranged fan not attacked her—and stolen 27 months of her career—on one of the darkest days in sports history.