Monica Seles will always see her career as a play in two acts. In the first, she was a brash young phenom whose power changed the game. In the second, after a German spectator stabbed her during a changeover in 1993, she played for love of the game.
“I was definitely more efficient in the beginning,” she said.
But it was only later that the fans embraced her. Now Seles, always a favorite at the U.S. Open in late August, will bring her game to Mamaroneck, playing three times for the Sportimes during the World TeamTennis season.
“I’ve never been to Mamaroneck; I hope we get a good crowd out there and get a lot of kids,” Seles said. “I think you’ll see a lot of great tennis. I’m excited to come to a new place.”
The Sportimes will play their first home match of the season on Tuesday against Anna Kournikova and the Kansas City Explorers. Seles will play once at the 2,057-seat Harbor Island Stadium on Friday. She will play for the team at two away matches as well.
Bea Bielik, who reached the third round of the U.S. Open, her first tournament as a professional, returns to the team. Four-time WTA tournament winner Ruxandra Dragomir, young Chilean Hermes Gamonal, and Australian pro Joe Sirianni are also on the team.
The team format has men’s and women’s doubles, mixed doubles and singles account for equal portions of the total score. The atmosphere is more relaxed, a crying child won’t draw hard stares, and fans are encouraged to be more involved.
Patrick McEnroe has a minority stake in the team, and he and big brother John played last season. This year both have opted out — John due to hosting a new television show, and Patrick with his Olympics and announcing duties.
The season runs during July and there will be seven home dates for the Sportimes.
Circle July 9, though, because there may not be many more opportunities to see Seles play. The 30-year-old suffered a foot injury that kept her out of competition for months. Seles, who turned pro in 1989 and has earned more than $14 million on the WTA Tour, was in a cast from last November until March and has been trying to come back since.
Seles admits she probably played on the injured foot too long, exacerbating the problem. In the time off, she spent a lot of time with friends and family. Some of it was spent mulling retirement, but she decided she would miss the tour too much if she stopped now and has stuck with the arduous rehab.
“Either way, I’m so happy with how my career has gone, but I still would like to try and play,” she said.
She had hoped to play in the French Open, but wasn’t ready. Her goal now is to use World TeamTennis season to see how hard she can play over her three-day commitment. If all goes well, she wants to play in the Pilot Pen in New Haven, Conn., and then the U.S. Open a week later.
“I would only want to play at the level where I’m happy,” said Seles, who reached at least the quarterfinals of every Grand Slam tournament in 2002. “Because if I can’t, forget about it.”
The uncertainty has been, in her words, frustrating. To have that decision taken out of her hands, just as her No. 1 ranking was stolen more than a decade ago, seems patently unfair.
But Seles never responded to her situation with anger, and that may be why the second part of her career has been so long, and why so many fans respond to her with such warmth.
“It’s been a good test of my love for the game,” Seles said. “I would really like to continue to play.”