Already inducted this summer into the International Tennis Hall of fame in Newport, Rhode Island, Monica Seles is about to receive even more red carpet treatment. At the site of her courageous comeback to the sport in 1995, Seles will be inducted into the Rogers Cup Hall of Fame in Toronto on Monday night.
Having finally admitted that her body could no longer compete at the level she was accustomed to, Seles announced her retirement in 2008. Her last tour match was at the French Open in 2003. Seles will return to the court in Toronto one last time on Monday night in an exhibition doubles match along with Martina Navratilova, Serena Williams and Aleksandra Wozniak.
Seles spent some time on a conference call with tournament media on Thursday and discussed her induction and her fond memories of playing tennis in Canada. Looking at her career in the rear view mirror seemed quite comfortable for Seles, and her trademark giggle was still in full effect at numerous moments throughout the question period.
I am so excited to be back in Toronto. I had the absolute best memories from coming back there in 1995 after my stabbing and being off the tour for two and a half years and the reception that I received that evening when I went out there on the Rexall Center court I will never forget. So when I heard that Tennis Canada together with Rogers Communications will be inducting me into the Rogers Cup Hall of Fame, I right away said, “yes – I’m coming.” And I want to play, I really haven’t got a chance to play much because my foot has been hurting me but this last three weeks I went into overdrive knowing that I’m going to be playing against Serena, and Aleks and Martina so I’ve just been excited I think and hopefully the fans will be excited for great tennis Monday night. And just what an honor for me and what a great way to cap, to finish off my career. And I always played some of my best tennis in Toronto, I always played that tournament and I always loved coming there and I really, I just can’t wait to get there, to play Monday night, see all the fans that really supported me throughout my career and just watch some fantastic tennis.
Q: You had such a great run here in Canada from ’95 to ’98, I think you only dropped one set in those four years combined. What do you attribute your incredible success here in Canada to?
A: I just always loved playing Canada. I always had the greatest fans in Canada. I loved the courts, I loved the centre court. As I mentioned, the Rogers Cup in terms of the arena, it was beautiful especially when you guys built the brand new one, and you know certain places you just love and Toronto for me was always one of them. And I always brought out the best tennis in me, I always played some great matches. I had some hard fought matches but there was something – that extra special feeling – that, you know, I can pull through this and I can win this tournament. That’s why I won so many championships there.
Q: What do you remember most about walking back onto the court in your comeback after the stabbing?
A: Walking down those stairs at the old stadium, I would get very nervous because I didn’t play a match in two and a half years, I didn’t know what lay ahead of me. And just walking down in that stadium, the reception that I received, the signs – welcome back Monica – the pictures and the high fives going into the matches, I said you know what, this feels like home, I made the right decision. And throughout that tournament it was just like a magical run. I played some great tennis, and to win right away your first tournament, I really couldn’t have done it without the fans, and as I mentioned when I was introduced I’ll never forget that. Any chance at this one that I’ve got, that I’m being inducted into the Rogers Cup Hall of Fame, these are things that, you know, when I’ll be sixty or so, telling my kids or grand kids, I’ll be very proud. These things just don’t happen that often, what a wonderful honor, and really what a great way to cap my career off.
A: You miss the competitivess, you miss some of your friends on the tour. I don’t miss the traveling part, but also, I have to be realistic – that my foot just wasn’t ready to come back to play at the world class level that I always played in my career and I had to face the reality of retiring. And last year when I did that, I know I’d given it my best, because for three years I tried really hard, and you know, the reality was that my body just gave up on me. So now I still play tennis because it is a sport for a lifetime, I enjoy it, I try to inspire young kids to pick up the racquet and now it’s really more like the fun years.
Q: When you came on to the circuit, your aggressive style of play contributed a lot to how the womens game changed. What do you notice since you’ve been away from the game – how it’s changed since you played?
A: Well I think not so much since I retired in my last match in 2003, because already then Serena and Venus were really the stronger players out there and dominating I think as you see them really doing right now. I actually don’t think so much, I think now there’s a lot more, you don’t have, um, maybe, like, I don’t know, I really don’t think it has changed that much. The girls are hitting the ball really hard, they’re super, super fit, mentally they are very strong, they’re very hungry when they step out there. I really believe that womens tennis is really at a fantastic time right now, and the only thing that it holds, if it does hold it back, is when the top players get injuries. But I think this year has been really good. It seems the players are much better at planning their schedules so they don’t get injured as often as has been happening the last few years.
Q: And when you came onto the scene you were young and in your teens still, do you think if you were to do that now you would still be as successful as you were back then?
A: I think, I mean, you know it’s so hard, you can’t compare, who knows what would have been? All I can do is that I know I would have worked very hard. I had, you know, always enjoyed playing tennis and I knew I gave it my best every single time I stepped on the tennis court. So who knows, it’s hard to talk about past generations, future generations. I’m very happy the generation that I got to play, I really had a blast. I’m so thankful for what tennis has given me and really just the friendship after. Now that I’ve retired and it’s not as competitive as when you’re playing each other and vying for the French Open title and there is a lot on the line and it’s very difficult. But bottom line is that I loved to play tennis and I still love to play tennis and everything else is really just the gravy on the top.
Q: You played against a lot of great players in your time. Who was one player that you really enjoyed playing against for some reason, and another that maybe gave you fits that you always dreaded playing against?
A: Well funny enough, it’s kind of a great question, because the same players I loved playing against I really hated playing against. Part of you when you’re playing the top players like Graf, Navratilova, Williams sisters, Hingis, you’re so nervous because you know the match is going to be decided by one or two points. By the same time as a top player, you thrive on it, you thrive on that pressure of going out there in front of 10,000 people, final day, all eyes are on that match and the hype to it. So all the former number one players I hated playing them but at the same time I loved playing them. Because I knew they would bring the best out. So really, it’s hard to think who it was because every player played such a different game style. If I played Graf I knew I would be getting a lot of slices, if I played Navratilova I knew she would be chipping and charging. But my outlook on matches was I just tried to control my game and not worry about what my opponent was doing.