Seles unsure when — or if — she’ll return

NEW YORK (AP) — Monica Seles is a bit frustrated these days, wondering when — or if — she’ll return to tournament tennis.

Recovering from a left foot injury, the nine-time major champion hasn’t played a match since losing in the first round at the French Open nine months ago.

It was the first time she exited a Grand Slam event that early, and Seles said Tuesday she doesn’t want to leave the sport on that note. But she also acknowledged she’s thought about retiring.

“It does go through my mind, because my brain wants to be out there, playing or practicing, but my body says, ‘Wait! Hold on!’ I have to listen to my body,” Seles said in an interview with The Associated Press.

“I’m not 18 years old anymore. Not that 30 is old, but I started so young, and my body has taken a lot of pounding.”

Surgery wasn’t an option to repair the stress fracture in her left foot, Seles said, so instead she’s waiting for it to heal. She’s wearing a soft cast now and having regular MRI exams to check on the progress. Doctors say the tests should be done every eight weeks. Seles insists on having them every six weeks.

If I come back, I want to make sure I'm coming back in every sense,'' she said.I have to build up to it.”

If she can’t come back, tennis will lose one of its all-time best players and a fan favorite. Her engaging personality and giggle are as well-known as her two-handed strokes from both sides and the accompanying two-note grunts.

By the time she was 19, Seles won eight Grand Slam titles. But on April 30, 1993, a man climbed out of the stands at a tournament in Hamburg, Germany, and stabbed her. The psychological and physical scars took time to heal.

Seles returned to the game 27 months later and displayed remarkable resilience. That she was back on court was impressive in itself; that she immediately reached the 1995 U.S. Open final and then won the ’96 Australian Open was downright stunning.

And throughout that time — including on court — she was battling migraine headaches that didn’t subside until Seles found the right medicine in 1997.

How much does she miss the game these days?

Unable to run around a court, sometimes Seles will sit on the ground and swing a racket, just to have that feel of the ball hitting the strings.

I'm such an impatient person,'' she said.But I know I need to slowly come back and see how it holds up under practice — not to push it and not to re-injure it.”

If doctors allow, she’ll return to the court for a charity exhibition match against Martina Navratilova in Richmond, Va., next month. While away from the tour, Seles has kept tabs on tennis, watching the Australian Open and other tournaments on television.

And she’s noticed a trend.

It's amazing how many players have been hurt this season,'' Seles said.If you look at Serena (Williams), she’s been out as much as I have. Maybe the offseason needs to be longer — I know the tour is looking at it.”

Nearly every top player has been sidelined with one ailment or another recently. Williams still hasn’t played since winning Wimbledon in July, while her sister Venus missed six months.

Amelie Mauresmo, Jennifer Capriati and Justine Henin-Hardenne also have been out.

It's a long season, and we need more time to rest and have a holiday,'' the top-ranked Henin-Hardenne said.We need at least six weeks to be prepared for the next season.”

The WTA Tour says it’s looking into making a change.

“The players who’ve been injured have been high-profile players, so it’s more noticeable,” tour spokesman Darrell Fry said.

“Still, we feel that giving our players more of a break between seasons, just like other pro sports, is advantageous all around — for the players, for the tour and for the fans.”

And Seles pointed out that even during the offseason, there is not a whole lot of time when players are, well, off.

These days, though, she has too much time on her hands.

It made me realize how much I still miss the game and would like to be out there. And I want to finish on my own terms,'' she said.I want to finish being able to play. It’s been tough. It’s tested my patience and my love for the game.”