Seles hopes to make a comeback at French Open

Monica Seles deserves a break.

And not the one she has been dealing with in her left foot for more than a year.

When the French Open rolls around on May 24, it will be exactly a year since Seles last played a meaningful tennis match. After battling problems with her left foot much of the early part of 2003, the Sarasota resident shut down after losing in the first round at Roland Garros to Nadia Petrova.

It was the worst loss for Seles in 11 appearances at the French Open. She finished out of the top 10 for the first time — not counting the time she spent away after being stabbed in 1993 — since 1988.

After months of rehabilitating, Seles, 30, had hoped to play a couple tournaments in Europe to prepare for this year’s French Open. That plan disintegrated recently when Seles experienced further discomfort in the foot while training in San Diego.

Instead of entering a tournament in either Strasbourg, France, or Madrid, Spain, Seles headed for New York to have her foot looked at again and undergo more rehab. She planned to make a brief stop in Sarasota this week, then head to Europe to get in some training on red clay.

While she still hopes to play the French Open, a tournament she won three straight years (1990-92), she will not be able gain tournament toughness before the two-week event.

“Definitely, by far, that will be the first tournament,” Seles said about playing the French Open. “I want to play the French but I am taking it a day at a time. With this (injury) I am learning that. I have to chill out with it and not put so much stress on my schedule.”

Seles is eager to get back, but she knows coming back before the foot is healed could lead to the end of her career. She has taken a long time in rehabilitation and she is in better shape than she has been in a long time. But there is no substitute for playing matches.

“I don’t know myself,” Seles said about being ready. “I am just trying to follow the doctor’s advice and use my head. I am in unchartered territory with this.”

That is true as far as her foot injury. But she does have the experience of coming back after a long layoff.

Seles missed 27 months after being stabbed by a deranged fan on April 30, 1993 during a tournament in Germany. In her first tournament after her return, Seles won the Canadian Open in August 1995. During that event, Seles set a tournament record for the fewest number of games lost by a champion (16) and beat Amana Coetzer 6-0, 6-1 in the most lopsided final in that tournament’s history.

She was the only player to come off such an extended layoff to win her first event upon returning until Serena Williams did it last month at the Nasdaq-100 Open. This time Seles would be happy to get through a few matches.

“I am going to go to Europe, train a little bit and go from there,” Seles said.

In the theater, they say “break a leg” for good luck. Seles doesn’t want to hear that.

What she deserves is the cheers for winning meaningful matches.