ear over year, decade over decade, women have hotly sought after Wimbledon’s Venus Rosewater Dish. Among those are Serena Williams, a seven-time singles champ in London, and Monica Seles, a finalist 26 years ago.
Seles spoke in a WTA-sponsored Q&A in recent days about her experience meeting Serena and Venus Williams.
As reported by Forbes from the Tennis on the Thames event:
“[Their] dad came about three years before to talk to my dad with Venus, and he said, ‘My daughters are going to beat your daughter,’ and all this stuff. And we said, ‘OK, sure,'” Seles said. “But I could see something in the determination of both Serena and Venus, even myself at that stage. I think I was 17 when I first met them—there was something that I could see that I had and I was like a little bit scared.”
Seles knew full well at the time what it meant to unseat a heralded champion.
“When I was 15, I was playing Chrissie Evert and for the first time, I beat her,” she continued. “In the locker room, Chrissie says to me, ‘Just wait until you get a taste of this, what I got today.’ And at 15 years old, I am like, ‘Whatever, sure, that time will never come.’ But for Chrissie, that time came when she was 34. For me, it came when I was 21.”
Seles would lose her first-ever encounter against Serena, saying she got “smoked” in the 4-6, 6-1, 6-1 defeat.
“I remember calling my agent that night and saying, ‘Tony [Godsick, now Roger Federer’s agent], my days are numbered,” she said. “I could just sense that this was going to be the next great champion. I think it’s terrific because it happened, that’s evolution. It’s a humbling experience to feel that pendulum swing.”
Not every Hall of Famer would welcome such a change in the human tide of a sport, but Seles stayed remarkably humble. Not just Serena and Venus but also Maria Sharapova came into her view.
“Obviously, I had heard a lot from my former coach Nick Bollettieri, [and Sharapova] was playing at the Bollettieri academy,” Seles said. “I think she was 16 or 17 when I played her. Thankfully, I won that match.”
Seles and Sharapova faced off in Indian Wells in 2002, with the nine-time major singles champion winning 6-0, 6-2.
The victory didn’t mean that Seles rested on her laurels. Far from it.
“But again, I got the sense that it was a matter of years, if not months, before she’s going to be a champion,” she said of Sharapova. “And the next year, she went on and won Wimbledon.”
That ensuing year was 2004, when Sharapova famously defeated Serena for the Wimbledon title. It was two months after Seles defeated Sharapova in Indian Wells that she would lose in the 2003 French Open’s first round – the only first-round loss in her Grand Slam career—never to play another major or tour-level match.