Tennis Players That Changed The Game: Monica Seles

Monica Seles could have possibly won more Grand Slam singles titles than any other female player, had her career not been cut short. Born in Yugoslavia to Hungarian parents, she began playing tennis at the age of six. Her father, Karoly Seles, was her coach.

At the age of 14, she played her first professional tournament in 1988. She joined the professional tour full-time the following year and won her first career title at Houston where she beat Chris Evert in the final.

In April of 1989, she reached the semifinals of her first Grand Slam singles tournament at the French Open. She lost to World No. 1 Steffi Graf in a tough three-setter. She was only fifteen years old by then, and had already made it to the semis of a major in her first opportunity.

Even more impressive was the fact that she took a set off Graf in the semifinal match. Clearly, good things were to come for Seles and nothing was impossible to accomplish. She won her first Grand Slam singles title at the 1990 French Open, defeating Steffi Graf in straight sets.

This victory made her the youngest French Open winner at the age of 16 years, six months. Seles would finish 1990 as the World’s No. 2 ranked player. Over the next two years (1991, 1992), the Hungarian would dominate the women’s tour.

A victory at the Australian Open began her 1991 season in solid fashion. In March, she was the World’s new No.1 ranked player, replacing Graf. The victory in Australia was followed up by a successful defense of her French Open title won the previous year.

Seles didn’t participate at Wimbledon, taking a six week break instead due to shin splints. However, she returned for the U.S Open and defeated Martina Navratilova in the final to close out the year the same way she started it.

In 1992, she successfully defended her titles at the Australian Open, French Open and U.S Open. She reached the finals of Wimbledon but lost to Graf in straight sets. Many believed that she lost at Wimbledon for playing quietly. Normally, Seles would grunt when hitting the ball much like Maria Sharapova does today.

A few opponents had complained about the grunting and as a result she played silently in the final. From 1991 to 1993, Seles won 22 titles and reached 33 finals out of the 34 tournaments she played overall.

She compiled an amazing 55-1 record at Grand Slam tournaments during that time. In her first four years on the map (1989-1992), Seles had a record of 231-25 while collecting 30 titles.

Seles was the best woman’s player heading into 1993, and continued it with a win at the Australian Open final against Steffi Graf. At the time, this was her third win in four Grand Slam finals with Graf.

On April 30, 1993, the world was shocked at what took place in a tournament in Hamburg. Seles was playing Magdalena Maleeva in the quarterfinals and leading 6-4, 4-3. During a break between games, a psycho fan of Graf ran on the court and stabbed Seles between the shoulder blades.

I won’t mention his name because the piece of trash doesn’t deserve to be remembered. Seles’ physical injuries healed after a few weeks, but she was still affected psychology. How can you blame her? Imagine having to watch your back after every point is played in a match.

It took over two years for her to return to competitive action. She promised to never play tennis in Germany ever again – another decision that I’m sure none of us can argue. Just the fact that she returned to tennis alone is a great act of courage.

A band called Young Elders, sent a song called “Fly Monica Fly” to Seles while she was recovering in the hospital. Dan Bern also made a tribute to her, called Monica.

Seles returned to the tour in August of 1995 and won her first comeback tournament, the Canadian Open. She returned to the final of the U.S Open that year too, but lost to Graf in three sets.

In January of the following year, Seles won her fourth Australian Open defeating Anke Huber in the final. Sadly, this would be her last Grand Slam title. Struggling to regain her best form on a consistent basis, Seles would still make the finals of the 1996 U.S Open before losing to Graf again.

Her last Grand Slam final came in 1998 at the French Open where she lost to Arantxa Sanchez Vicario. Seles absolutely punished the ball when hitting it. Her main weapons were the two-fisted forehand, backhand shots and a dominating return of serve. Unsurprisingly, she had great speed too and was able to get to most of the balls.

She is considered by many to be the first power player in the women’s game, inspiring players like Venus and Serena Williams, Lindsay Davenport and others. As I mentioned earlier, she grunted constantly during matches, which is why Maria Sharapova is so similar to her with the power and screaming.

It’s a tragedy that one of the finest tennis careers was ruined by a lunatic. Even still, she was able to pull off one more Australian Open title and a few finals before retiring. Seles was known as one of the best clutch performers, having tremendous composure during the biggest points.

She had eight Grand Slam singles titles at just the age of 20 and finished with nine in the end. Monica Seles had the potential to win as many titles as Steffi Graf or Martina Navratilova (if not more). Monica is the only woman to have won her first six Grand Slam singles finals.

People all over the world loved to watch this woman play. The career is over, but certainly not forgotten.