Playing home is a nice option for Seles

The best players in women’s tennis are competing for millions of dollars this week in the season-ending tournament being played in Germany.

Yet, Monica Seles, one of the greatest players of all time, isn’t there. Instead, Seles spent Monday in a golf cart watching Riverview High sophomore Lindsey Bergeon play at Heritage Oaks in a high school region golf tournament.

“I have known her over the years,” Seles said. “She is a really good friend of my family. She is a really talented golfer and I hope she goes far in it.”

After missing almost half of this year with a foot injury, the 28-year-old Seles finished with a flourish. She easily won the last three tournaments she played, winning her 50th singles title along the way.

The run she was on would have made her a threat in this week’s $3,000,000 Sanex Championships, which brings together the top 16 players.

The money and the competition were inviting. The tournament site was not.

The event is played in Germany and Seles will not play in that country on principal. It was in Germany where Seles, the No. 1 woman tennis player in the world at the time, was stabbed by Guenter Parche, a crazed fan of Steffi Graf.

The attack, in April 1993, sidelined her career for almost two years. Adding insult to injury was that the German law system allowed Parche to walk without a conviction or being confined to a mental facility. Seles then made a decision to not play in Germany again.

Seles, a sensitive person by nature, said she has seen a different attitude around the world since the terrorist attacks Sept. 11.

“It’s been so bad the last six weeks wherever you go, not just here,” Seles said. “It’s just been so sad, a sad feeling everywhere.”

Seles is now home, done with tennis for the rest of the year. She will spend a great deal of the time away from the tour getting ready for next year’s schedule, starting with the Australian Open in January.

The year 2002 has the potential to be a very successful one for Seles. She has proven that her game is strong and if her body stays healthy she has a chance to move back into the top four. She is currently ranked No. 8.

“Just to stay healthy is my No. 1 goal,” Seles said. “I want to start off the year strong. I want to be able to play a full schedule.”

To help accomplish her goals, Seles can turn to her support staff. Lisa Reed has been her trainer for the past eight months and Mike Sell, a former player on the men’s tour, has joined as a coach for the past six weeks.

Seles also has a hard decision to make sometime in the next few months. There will be a lot of people who want her to play in the Sarasota Open, a WTA event that will be held at The Meadows Country Club April 1-7.

While she says it would be great to be able to play in her hometown, there are restrictions on top players that might make that difficult.

Seles had been told the Sarasota event was a Tier V tournament, the lowest level of WTA tournaments. Very seldom can top players choose to play down in that level of tournament. But Sarasota is a Tier IV tournament, with $140,000 in prize money. Players may request an exemption to play down in a Tier IV event.

And Seles might not need an exemption to play in Sarasota, since there is not a larger event scheduled that weekend anywhere in the world.

“That would be big pressure on me,” she laughed. “I never played in my home town. Everyone, all your friends and family come out to watch you. That would be really different.

“I really struggled when I played the Ericsson (near Miami) when I had a lot of my friends drive down for the weekend. Oh gosh, it doubles the pressure to do well. I am sure I would hear about it for a long time wherever I go if I didn’t do well.”