Seles does the grunt work

No crying in baseball? It’s the gospel truth. No parking on the dance floor? We can live with that. No grunting in tennis? UNNNHHH! I don’t think so.

Monica Seles’ grunt is as indelible a battle cry as Godzilla’s high-pitched wail. Like the mighty monster, Seles emits it as a prelude to attack. Oftentimes, her opponents do not take kindly to the Seles grunt.

“She’s screaming at the top of her lungs,” complained Jennifer Capriati during the Acura Classic earlier this month in Carlsbad, Calif. Seles won that match, 6-3, 6-3, and then beat Martina Hingis in the semifinals before succumbing to Venus Williams in the final. It’s funny, though, how Seles’ diaphragm reflexes become so much more noisome as her level of play improves.

Monica Seles is 27 and something of an afterthought — more a burp than a grunt — in this year’s US Open. She is not a Williams sister or a top seed like Hingis. She is not a returned-to-the-fold Capriati, whose Jenaissance has been well-documented — and deservedly so. She is not a Belgian belle, a la Kim Clijsters or Justine Henin, the 5th- and 6th-seeds, respectively.

But as she proved once again this morning with a decisive 6-2, 6-3 victory against Eleni Daniilidou, she is capable of winning this tournament. Seles is the only female two-time Open champion entered into this draw. Last year Seles had the 4th-best singles record (58-13) on the Sanex WTA Tour, behind only Lindsay Davenport, Martina Hingis and Venus Williams. If you consider that those three combined to serve Seles 11 of her 13 losses and Pierce, the 2000 French Open champion, added another, then you can say that, with one exception, her only losses last year came to Grand Slam winners of 2000 and Hingis, the No. 1 player in the world.

Seles, however, has had a remarkably quiet year for someone who began 2001 with the best active career record (441-78, .821) in women’s tennis. She suffered a stress-fracture in her right foot which rendered her inactive from mid-March through mid-July, including the French Open and Wimbledon. The four-time Australian Open winner lost to eventual champ Capriati in the quarterfinals.

Since returning from her foot injury, Seles has acquitted herself quite well in preparing for the year’s final Grand Slam. In four different hard court events this summer, she has twice beaten Capriati and Hingis and twice advanced to the final, losing to Davenport and Venus Williams. That she is still losing to the Sanex WTA Tour’s biggest hitters is not lost on Seles. This year she has hired a full-time trainer, Lisa Reed, with the goal of making those grunts even more imposing.

“Definitely, physically everybody is a lot stronger,” Seles said today after winning her third-round match. “Everybody’s goal is to get really strong, which beforehand we had a few players, but the other players didn’t even want to get strong because they felt, `We don’t want to go down that road.’ Now everybody wants to go down that road.

“The ball is just being hit a lot harder,” she said. “I think kids growing up seeing Martina (Navratilova), Steffi (Graf) and myself realized, We got to hit it harder.”

Now Seles realizes that if she is to remain among the elite, she must grunt in the weight room, too. Not that she has to enjoy it. “I’m not that crazy on doing weights,” said Seles. “If you would give me a choice between playing tennis even three hours or going to the weight room for an hour, I would pick tennis. But that’s just because I love the game.”