Seles navigating comeback trail

Siegel Center visit for exhibition is part of star’s rehabilitation

So far, so good for Monica Seles.

The former No. 1 player in the world says her recovery from a foot injury that sidelined her much of last year is coming along nicely. Seles had the soft cast removed from her left foot more than two weeks ago and has been working hard since.

“I had been doing a lot of rehabbing with the cast on, but this is much better,” Seles said. “I tape it very well and go to therapy every day. No problems. I’m very happy about the way things are going. It was a very frustrating injury, and I’m glad to have it behind me.”

Seles didn’t have surgery but opted to allow the broken bone to heal on its own.

“I can’t go my usual five or six hours yet,” she said. “I’m starting very slowly. Hitting a lot of shots. Just repetition and moving around the court.”

Seles’ exhibition with Martina Navratilova a week from tomorrow at the Siegel Center will be the first real test of her foot in a competitive atmosphere. The best-of-three sets match is scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m. and follow a mixed doubles match involving local pros.

“We’ll see how it holds up under match conditions,” said Seles, 30, and the winner of nine major titles.

Seles is hoping to return to the circuit later this year, assuming the foot doesn’t bother her.

“I want to see how it goes for the next few weeks and how I feel,” she said. “The doctor wants me to take it slowly because he knows I have a problem where I want to do everything immediately. He wants me to be as patient as I can.

“Ideally, I’d like to start back during the clay-court season, but I’ll have to see how I play. It won’t be an easy road back.”

So even though this will be an exhibition, it means a lot to Seles and her comeback hopes.

“Any match is a big match for an athlete,” she said. “As anyone who knows me from playing on my court at my house, it is because I’m so competitive. But in terms of seeing where my game is, how my foot holds up afterward, it’s definitely going to be big test.

“Then I still have more practices ahead of me before I can return to the daily grind of the tour, which is different from playing one match.”

For the moment, Seles is elated to have the chance to trade ground strokes with something other than a ball machine.

“I’m just very excited that I can even play,” she said. “For a long time, I wasn’t sure about that. My first hurdle has been cleared and for me, mentally, something good has finally happened after waiting for such a long time.”