Monica Seles and Martina Navratilova have played tennis against each other on the world’s biggest stages.
Tonight they face each other at Denver University’s Magness Arena to raise money and draw attention to the fight against multiple sclerosis, a disease that affects one in every 800 Coloradans.
The Rebif MS Tennis Classic will bring the two champions together for a singles match at 7 p.m.. After that, comedian Jon Lovitz will umpire a doubles match featuring Navratilova, Seles, retired tennis player Mary Joe Fernandez and rising star Corina Morariu, with all proceeds benefiting the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and the Rocky Mountain MS Center.
In the past, the event has paired Seles and Lindsey Davenport (2000) and Seles and Anna Kournikova (2001), but for history and championships, neither compare to the pairing of Seles and Navratilova. The two have battled for the highest stakes in several Grand Slam events.
“We’ve had a few,” Seles said when asked which match against Navratilova she remembered most. “But it had to be the (U.S. Open) Championship, in 1991, when we played in the finals there. That was great tennis. Then we played in Paris in 1992 in a three-set match.
“We’ve just had some classic matches, and to this day, when I watch those matches at home, on videotape, the games are just great.
“The games, but not the hairstyles.”
They could afford to share a few laughs at the news conference Wednesday, but when Seles first turned pro and Navratilova was at the height of her domination of women’s tennis, their matches were no joking matter. After losing in her first three matches against Navratilova after she turned pro in 1989, it meant the world to Seles to finally beat her in the finals of the 1990 Italian Open.
“I think when I first beat her, I thought I had played the best match of my life,” said Seles, who has nine Grand Slam titles on her resume. “It was one of those days that I couldn’t miss a ball, one of those matches that you never forget. It was always very special because when I was growing up, I always had a poster of Martina in my room and she was the one I looked up to.”
Navratilova, who lives in Aspen, retired in 1994 after winning 166 doubles and 166 singles titles, more than any man or woman. She came out of retirement recently to play tennis semiregularly, and earlier this year she became the oldest woman, at age 45, to win a singles match on tour.
“Martina is in amazing shape,” Seles said. “She is used to the altitude, so she’ll have an advantage.”
The biggest change in the game since making her return, Navratilova said, is the staggering power of the women’s game.
“Everybody hits the ball hard,” she said. “Not just the top players like Monica and Steffi (Graf). Everybody is hitting the cover off the ball. And players are more aggressive from the baseline. That’s taken away a little bit of the variety, but the power that is out there from the baseline is the big difference.”
Local junior players Sara Anundsen, a two-time Class 5A state champion from Columbine High School, and Nicole Leimbach, a two-time Class 4A champion from Pine Creek in Colorado Springs, will play a singles match at 5:45 p.m. before Seles and Navratilova square off.