Seles dazzles KC crowd in debut with Explorers

Monica Seles put on a show Friday in Hale Arena in her Kansas City Explorers debut. Resplendent with her brown hair pulled back into a small ponytail and sporting an oversized Kansas City Explorers T-shirt, Monica Seles easily commanded the attention of nearly everyone before the start of the Explorers’ match against the Idaho Sneakers on Friday night at Hale Arena.

And when the event began, nothing changed. The crowd of 3,375 roared when Seles defeated Idaho’s Mirjana Lucic in singles. They loved watching Seles team with Mariaan de Swardt for a win in women’s doubles. And they were thrilled when Seles came in as a substitute in the deciding game of mixed doubles.

It didn’t seem to matter that the Explorers snapped a three-game losing streak by defeating Idaho 22-16. All anyone cared about was Seles’ every serve, every winner and every grunt. For 2 hours, 20 minutes, it was all Monica.

“The fans were just great….They were so nice,” Seles said. “They were really supporting me actively, and it’s nice to see that.”

Friday night was the only time Seles, the fifth-ranked player in the world and winner of nine Grand Slam singles titles, will play at home for the Explorers this season. Tonight Seles and the Explorers travel to St. Louis — Seles’ last match with the team this year.

Seles’ journey to Kansas City took longer than anticipated. She was supposed to arrive in the area about 12:30 p.m. Friday. However, her connecting flight from St. Louis was delayed, forcing Seles to miss a scheduled afternoon news conference. After Explorers coach Paul Smith picked her up at the airport at 4:15 p.m., Seles had little time to warm up for her first match since Wimbledon, when she fell to Lucic in straight sets in the third round.

But the effects never showed. In her first match, Seles and de Swardt dispatched Lucic and Katie Schlukebir 5-0. Seles also handled Lucic in singles, 5-3.

“It was nice to play her again — especially after Wimbledon,” Seles said. “It was a very tough loss there, and it was good to play well today against her.”

Although Seles is playing just two matches for the Explorers, her teammates think her brief appearance will only generate more enthusiasm for World TeamTennis.

“It’s great that she creates all the attention,” de Swardt said. “Hopefully this will attract even more….If they come the first time to see her, then hopefully they’ll come again.”

The Explorers added Oliver Freelove, a former standout at Illinois, to their roster on Friday. Freelove replaces John-Laffnie de Jager, who is out because of back spasms….Liezel Horn, normally de Swardt’s partner in women’s doubles and a participant in mixed doubles, had the night off to make room for Seles.