The advice that Monica Seles, now 44, would give her teenage and early-20s self about life in professional sports can be summed up in one word: Relax
“As a tennis player, you’re known for your last result,” Seles said during her “singles” convo with Fast Company editor-in-chief, Stephanie Mehta, in San Jose last week.
“Serena [Williams], if she doesn’t win a Grand Slam, it’s like she failed. But it’s not been a year since she gave birth. In my case, it was, Oh, I didn’t win that tournament. I’d lost one or two matches a year, and that in my brain was a catastrophe. Looking back, it was [just] a tennis match. … It shouldn’t have been so black and white. That would be the best advice I’d give myself.”
Seles’ story is well known even by casual sports fans of the past quarter-century. Her physical and emotional scars both took time, and more, to heal after an on-court, in-match stabbing at the hands of an unhinged fan. What was a “one-dimensional” life on tour added so many layers and complexities after her attack, previously unheard of in pro-sports settings.
That was then, in 1993. As Seles told Mehta and her rapt audience, she had no peers with similar experiences to turn to, and might not have done so anyway due to locker-room norms at the time: “You didn’t want to get close. You didn’t develop friendships on tour. You didn’t want to get them that edge” on you.
Call it a sad state of mind and surroundings at the time, but it’s the sort of stuff that Seles and fellow all-time great Stefanie Graf were known for, though the likes of Maria Sharapova receive chastisement these days for being “icy” or unto themselves behind the scenes. Still, Seles noted, per the tweet above, that she now considers her then-nemeses from matches of yore to be friends, a sweaty-turned-chummy sorority.
Seles’ showing was part of Fast Company’s “Game On: Winning in Sports, Technology, and Business” event held during the the WTA tournament under the California sun. Jill Smoller, agent to Serena Williams among other celebrated clients, also appeared in the lineup of speakers and panelists.
Suffice it to say that whereas Seles once deemed it a “catastrophe” to lose a lousy tennis match, she grew since her attack, and even since her last professional match 15 years ago, to appreciate—yeah, even to relish—life’s small things. We should all be so lucky.