Seles won’t play Sarasota Open

Monica Seles leaned against the wall outside the women’s locker room, her body sore and cramping. Her mind was just as worn. “Tonight was a classic example of where I am at, not just physically but mentally a little bit,” Seles said after struggling to beat Conchita Martinez in three sets.

Where Seles is at these days is in a no-win situation.

She needs a break from tennis and the only time on her schedule to do so is the week the Women’s Tennis Association stops in Sarasota.

A professional tennis tournament will be played at The Meadows Country Club April 1-7. Thirty-two professional players will be competing in the single draw. Mary Pierce will be there. Jelena Dokic will be there. Meghann Shaughnessy will be there. Heck, even Martinez will be there.

Monica Seles won’t be there. Although she lives in Sarasota, even used to practice at The Meadows, Seles is skipping the Sarasota event.

There are plenty of reasons — all of them legitimate — why Seles won’t play this year in the Sarasota tournament. But there are only two things many people in Sarasota can see. There is a women’s professional tennis tournament in Sarasota. And Seles owes it to a community that has both embraced her and respected her privacy.

In a perfect world Seles would play Sarasota … and win it. But this is tennis and the only thing Seles, now 28, owes is to give herself the best chance of making the most of the time she has left on the tour.

That means there are bigger, more important tournaments to play than a small, first-year, Tier IV event … even if it is being played in her back yard.

Seles said she would love to play in Sarasota, and that even some of her friends in the area don’t understand why she isn’t this year.

For one thing, there are implications for top players when they play down in a small event. But, for Seles, it primarily came down to her schedule, one that has been non-stop since the beginning of the year.

“Truthfully, I need a break,” Seles said. “I think I made a mistake with my schedule this year. I just don’t want to get to the point where I am tired of the game because of playing too much.”

Seles has had precious little time off since the beginning of the year when she went to Australia. From there she went to Asia then Paris, then Qatar, then Dubai, then California and, now, Miami. She has gotten to either the semifinals or finals of each tournament, meaning she has had to play all week.

“I have only had one day away from tennis,” she explained.

Seles is also committed to playing at Amelia Island the week after the Sarasota event, followed by Charleston, S.C., and Fed Cup in Charlotte, N.C., the last week of April.

The schedule has worn on Seles and that is dangerous for a player who has had a number of injuries in recent years. And, in fairness, the Sarasota tournament was not added to the WTA schedule until after Seles had made her 2002 schedule.

It would be simple to say Seles could adjust her schedule. But that is not easy for a top player and many of the events she plays in are tournaments that she has supported, and ones that have supported her, throughout the years.

Sarasota Open tournament promoter Rob Coseo knows that his tournament would have been an immediate success had Seles entered. But he also knows he has a strong field for a first-year event and hopes Seles could climb on board in the future.

“Monica has played a very challenging busy schedule, especially on hard courts,” Coseo admits. “We came on the books in August, at a time she had already made her schedule. I think we didn’t get on her radar until late and I’m sure she is in an awkward position because of that.

“It makes sense for her to take a week off. The bigger picture for us is that she knows the Sarasota tournament is here to stay and it will hopefully be on her schedule in 2003 now that she knows.”

“I would love to play and I hope it is going to stay where at some stage I can play it,” Seles said. “That would be nice.” Nice for Sarasota as well.

Seles said she was surprised just how strong a field the Sarasota event is, saying, “Last year I played a Tier II event in Brazil and this is stronger than that one.” She also hopes to attend the tournament and support it.

“Definitely, if I am in town I and going to come out and watch and support, for sure,” she said.

But if Seles gets to the final here, she may try to find some place far away from tennis to recharge her batteries and get ready to the next part of a grueling schedule