She was so good at such a young age, taking the power game to a whole new level and displaying nerves of steel on the biggest stages. And when she returned to the game, she inspired a generation of players and fans all over again. Be it through her style, her resilience or her smile, she has been one of the most popular players in tennis history. And on February 14, 2008, Monica Seles announced her retirement from the sport.
Seles’ rise to fame is well-documented – born in the former Yugoslavia, she relocated to America with her family in 1986 to train at the Bollettieri Tennis Academy, where she practiced for two years before starting to play the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour. Her style of play – powerful two-handed groundstrokes on both sides, acute angles and returning serve from inside the baseline – was a novelty at the time and took her to the very top of the game very quickly, as she became the youngest Roland Garros champion in history in 1990 (at 16 years, 6 months) and, at the time, the youngest No.1 in history on March 11, 1991 (at 17 years, 3 months, since passed by Martina Hingis). She dominated the Tour for the next two years, winning seven more majors and finishing at No.1 in 1991 and 1992.
Seles made an inspirational and successful comeback to tennis in the summer of 1995, winning her 33rd career title in Toronto and making it all the way to the final of the US Open before falling in three exciting sets to one of her greatest rivals, then-No.1 Steffi Graf. Although she won only one major after her return – the Australian Open in 1996, her ninth – Seles was still one of the very best throughout those comeback years, ranking in the Top 10 for all but four weeks between August 14, 1995 and March 17, 2003, building her career title haul up to 53 and notching wins over the players that were winning all of those majors at the time, including Hingis, Lindsay Davenport, both Williams sisters and Jennifer Capriati. Her last major final came at Roland Garros in 1998, just three weeks after the death of her father, Karolj, who had been her coach since the beginning.
Seles’ last season on the Tour came in 2003, her best finishes being finals at Tokyo [Pan Pacific] and Dubai, losing competitive three set matches both times to Davenport and Henin, respectively. She withdrew from all tournaments after Roland Garros due to a left foot injury and over the next few years would keep to exhibition play, not ruling out a comeback to the Tour – until now.
“Tennis has been and will always be a huge part of my life. I have for some time considered a return to professional play, but I have now decided not to pursue that,” Seles said. “I will continue to play exhibitions, participate in charity events and promote the sport, but will no longer plan my schedule around the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour. I look forward to pursuing other opportunities with the same passion and energy that fueled my dedication to tennis and to devoting more time to two of my passions – children and animals. I especially want to thank all my wonderful, loyal fans for all of their support for me over the years. They have inspired me throughout my career in the good times and comforted me in the bad times. I have always been so proud to have such a special group of precious fans to call my very own and felt they were the best an athlete could ever hope to have. I will miss them all as much as I will miss competing in the game of tennis.”
“Monica Seles is one of the great champions in the history of the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour, and an inspiration and role model for millions of fans throughout the world,” said Larry Scott, Chairman & CEO of the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour. “No one will ever forget the fierce determination and will to win that Monica brought to the court, nor the caring and warm person that she has always been off the court. Fans of women’s tennis have no shortage of fond Monica memories and of amazing matches and rivalries that Monica was a part of. No doubt, Monica will soon find her rightful place at the International Tennis Hall of Fame for her many accomplishments on the tennis court.”
Also among Seles’ career accomplishments are:
- Holding nine Grand Slam singles titles (four at Australian Open, three at Roland Garros, two at US Open); last one was 1996 Australian Open; last time reaching final was 1998 Roland Garros (just three weeks after father’s death – finished runner-up to SÃ¡nchez-Vicario); last one played was 2003 Roland Garros (lost first round to Nadia Petrova – was last match played).
- Youngest-ever winner of Roland Garros (16 years, 6 months).
- Youngest-ever winner of Tour Championships (16 years, 11 months).
- Holding 53 career Tour singles titles (ninth-most all-time).
- Holding No.1 for 178 non-consecutive weeks (fifth-most all-time); rose to No.1 for first time on March 11, 1991, becoming youngest-ever at the time (now second-youngest, passed by Hingis); year-end No.1 twice (1991, 1992).
- Earning $14,891,762 in career prize money (ninth all-time).
- Member of winning American Fed Cup Teams in 1996, 1999 and 2000.
- Winning seven of eight Grand Slams contested prior to 1993 stabbing; only Graf bettered that with eight of nine between 1988-1990.