It would be absolutely correct to believe professional tennis players lead sheltered, sometimes pampered lives.
The inspiring pros are the ones who make a point of experiencing the world they are gifted enough to travel. Too many shut themselves in their hotel rooms when not at a tournament venue, sticking to room service. In the process, they render Paris as bland as Oklahoma City.
There are times, though, in which world events play a role in tennis no matter how insulated a player likes to be. Such was the case late last summer, when Switzerland’s Marc Rosset chose to take a later Swiss Air flight and missed being on the ill-fated jet that crashed off the Canadian coast, killing all its passengers. Rosset quickly came to gain a new perspective on winning and losing tennis matches.
Another tragic event is responsible for shifting this weekend’s Fed Cup — the women’s tennis equivalent to the Davis Cup — from its initial destination, Croatia, to U.S. soil in Raleigh, N.C.
Initially scheduled for the city of Zagreb, the Fed Cup tie was moved to Raleigh because of the safety risk posed by the war surrounding Kosovo. Out of such an awful real-life morass comes the play-world benefit to the Americans.
Monica Seles, who was born in Croatia, will play for the Americans. Seles would have refused to compete had the tie been played in Zagreb because the entire Yugoslavian situation is too sensitive to her.
Billie Jean King, the captain for the U.S. squad, said the Raleigh Racquet Club offers what is “definitely a homecourt advantage, there is no question. As Raleigh Mayor Tom Fetzer mentioned, it is so too bad that we have to be here, but it definitely gives us an advantage to have us playing in the United States.
“We expect people to be very boisterous and we expect people to be for us. And not too polite, please. This is a team competition and we welcome excitement.”
King pushed for the switch to U.S. soil, with backing from the International Tennis Federation and USTA. That eased the pressure on Seles, who recently began to play World Team Tennis and has embraced the team concept.
“I kind of made the decision for her so she didn’t have to get uptight about it, because she would have. I know deep down she always wants to play Fed Cup when she can,” King said. “Monica has really enjoyed the family feeling we have with Fed Cup. But I told her if it was in Croatia or moved to Germany, don’t even think about it.”
Seles joins a U.S. squad with Chanda Rubin, Lisa Raymond and Lindsay Davenport. And she’s doing it at the right time, fresh off her first WTA Tour title in seven months after winning the Bausch & Lomb Championships last weekend on Amelia Island, Fla., near Jacksonville.
Seles’ defeat of Romania’s Ruxandra Dragomir was her first singles title on clay since she beat Steffi Graf in 1992 at Roland Garros. The Bausch & Lomb might not compare to winning a French Open, but Seles’ dominance was impressive. During the run of the tournament, she dropped only 14 games and did not lose a single set.
“I was really consistent and that’s why I got better results,” Seles said. “I’m happy with my form going into Federation Cup next week.”
The U.S. won’t have either Venus or Serena Williams on this squad — the Williams sisters have chosen to keep the Fed Cup off their schedule for now. With Seles, the Americans have a classy, capable veteran who is not only playing good tennis but understands all aspects of the international drama, from real-life realities to the relatively innocent world of tennis.
Seles’ hometown — Novi Sad, Yugoslavia — has sustained heavy bombing.
“I have talked about it (with Seles) in generalizations,” King said. “She has been very upset. It is just very difficult for her and I am sure for the players the Croatians as well. At least getting to play tennis will be a little bit lighter for everyone.
“I think this is the first time in my lifetime this has ever happened and it is it very sad,” King said of the switch from Croatia to Raleigh. “As you look and you watch CNN and you watch what is going on and (see) people without homes and without food, without clothes, just the basics of life, it is really sad. Also being separated and having family members killed like that is just it is horrific. I do not think Americans probably have any idea what that probably even feels like. I cannot imagine.”
On a weekend in Raleigh, players and fans will be spared having to contemplate it.