By Mic Huber
Even though she isn’t quite certain what they will unlock, Monica Seles says she is humbled that she will be receiving a key to the city Monday evening during the regular City Commission meeting.
She shouldn’t be. Seles clearly deserves the key and any tribute the city wants to offer.
“I am very excited,” Seles said this week about getting her key. “It is a great honor.”
And it is about time.
Seles has lived most of her life in Sarasota almost from the time she turned professional and began to dominate women’s tennis.
Seles is one of Sarasota’s greatest ambassadors, not only through her work for various charities throughout the years but also for the fame she has brought to the area.
Seles finished her tennis career with 53 singles titles, including nine Grand Slam singles championships. She also became one of the great personalities in the game.
During the early 1990s, Seles dominated the game. In a two-year period, Seles won 22 titles and reached the final in 33 of 34 tournaments she played.
She was ranked No. 1 in the world by the age of 17 and held that ranking in April, 1993 when, at the height of her career, she was stabbed in the back during a changeover at a tournament in Germany by a crazed tennis fan of Steffi Graf.
Seles returned to the game after a two year absence, and won another Grand Slam title. Yet she never recovered the dominance she once possessed despite still being one of the top players in the game.
It was tennis that took Seles to the top, but she always remained grounded. Some of her greatest moments took place away from the spotlight, times when she quietly gave her time and energy to helping people and causes.
Among the several causes she supported locally, Seles made several appearances at the Sarasota Boys and Girls Club.
She has always enjoyed the low-key lifestyle of Sarasota. Several of Seles’ closest friends were people she met throughout her daily life, people she would meet on the street or in restaurants.
She sometimes would take people under her wing, like the young tennis player she saw crying in the locker room at the U.S. Open. The girl, playing in the U.S. Open junior tournament, had recently lost her mother and broke down after losing a match in the junior event. Seles, who would lose in the women’s final that year to Graf, befriended the girl. Seles stayed in New York after the tournament ended and served as host to the girl, showing the youngster the sights of the city.
This has been a busy year for Seles. Her tennis accomplishments opened the doors to the International Tennis Hall of Fame this past summer and her induction left Seles, now 35, in awe.
“It was like, ‘Wow. Wow.'” Seles said about the experience at Newport, R.I in July. “Then you see your name on that plaque among all those great tennis players. It is so special. You kind of have to pinch yourself.
“What a way to finish my tennis career. The only thing missing that weekend was my father (who passed away in 1998). Everything else, I couldn’t have asked for a better day.”
While at the ceremonies, Seles was able to see the exhibit that is home for all the trophies she won in tennis. Seles donated her entire collection, which includes the first trophy she was at the age of six to the final one at age 29, as well as all those grand slam trophies.
She did so in hopes that they may encourage young players to take up the game.
“I was given a tennis racket when I was young and it changed my life,” Seles said. “I felt that maybe some kids walking through the stadium (at the HOF) might see the trophies and be inspired.
“I have given back what I was given, and they found a permanent home.”
Just like Seles has made Sarasota her permanent home. And Monday she will get a key to the city.
“I was wondering,” she giggled. “What do I get to do with those keys?” Seles quipped.
Symbolically, it means she is always welcome in Sarasota.
And that’s a good thing.