Seles exhibit showcases passion for game

NEWPORT – Savvy fans took advantage of the four-hour delay in the start of play Thursday to stroll through the International Tennis Hall of Fame and Museum and linger at the stunning exhibits honoring the four luminaries who will be inducted Saturday.

“Monica Seles: Pride and Passion for the Love of the Game” is a spectacular multimedia display covering the nine-time Grand Slam champion’s career. Five display cases feature the spoils of her victories, and one case holds the hardware from her triumphs at the Australian Open, French Open and U.S. Open. Another displays memorabilia, among them a tennis ball with the drawing of a mouse done by her cartoonist father, Karolj, when she was a child. He encouraged her to think of herself as a cat and to whack the mouse.

The Seles exhibit takes up the entire room in the center of the museum. She offered 80 items from her personal collection and about 50 are on display. Nicole Markham, the museum curator, went to the Seles’ home in Sarasota, Fla., and helped pack the items for shipment. Seles reviewed the text for the exhibit and will see it for the first time Friday or Saturday.

Posters on the wall take us through her career from her childhood hitting balls in her hometown of Novi Sad, Yugoslavia, to her run to the Orange Bowl final when she was 13, to her family’s move to Sarasota, Fla., to enroll her in Nick Bollettieri’s Tennis Academy and to her professional career.

Seles turned pro in 1989, when she was 15, and defeated Chris Evert in the finals at Houston. She also reached the semifinals at the French Open. In 1990 she won the first of her three French Open titles, and in 1991 was ranked No.1 in the world. By the spring of 1993 she had won three Australian, three French and two U.S. Opens.

Her career and life changed forever on April 30, 1993, when a deranged fan of Steffi Graf stabbed her in the back during a changeover at a tournament in Hamburg. Seles recovered from the wound that summer but remained off the tour for two years to recover emotionally. She came back in 1995 and reached the U.S. Open final; in 1996, she won the Australian Open again.

Karolj Seles died of stomach cancer in 1998, and Seles dedicated her French Open to him and reached the finals. She played her last French Open in 2003.

Video highlights of her career roll on a screen, and laminated cards explain the items in the display cases. One of them is her first trophy for finishing third in the Yugoslavia Juniors in 1983. She was 9 years old.

Hall of Fame induction ceremonies will start Saturday at 12:30. Catch the exhibit first, if you can.