Contrary to popular perception, the WTA’s season-ending championships at Staples Center next month won’t be the finish line for Monica Seles, a three-time winner of the event in the early ’90s. That’s the thing about perceptions. They might seem grounded in reality, but on closer examination, the base isn’t always as secure as it appears.
Seles, in Los Angeles on Thursday to promote the tournament, is not making plans far into the future. But an upbeat Seles said she will play the Australian Open in Melbourne in January, and possibly a tuneup tournament in Sydney or Hobart, but not the Hopman Cup in Perth. While Pete Sampras had been besieged by retirement questions the last two years (before he won the U.S. Open in September), Seles, who will turn 29 in December, has been facing those issues for about twice as long.
“That question has not happened at 28; that question, literally, started at 25,” Seles said. “That’s what has been really hard. People forget the last 10-12 years, I’ve finished in the top five every year. I see that with someone like Arantxa [Sanchez-Vicario]. We talk a little…. It’s very hard on her. I think everybody should be done when they want to be done. I really believe it.”
There is an underlying double standard, she said, from some reporters, as though they’ve decided it is time for her to get married and have children. Seles said the shove toward the finish line seems to happen more on the women’s side.
“It’s almost like they want you to retire…. Like just say it and you’re done and we scratch you off the list,” she said. “The only time I’ve ever seen that happen was with Pete. With Andre [Agassi], they never did it. He [Sampras] was getting this question all the time.”
Now, in a twist, Sampras is asking himself the same thing. In the first few days after his 14th Grand Slam singles title, the memorable U.S. Open final against Agassi, Sampras thought he would continue. He especially wanted to erase the bitter memory of his second-round loss to lucky loser George Bastl on Court 2 at Wimbledon this year.
More recently, he has wavered. Last week, at a charity match against Agassi in Philadelphia, he told reporters he would make a decision about retirement in about a month, saying, “Right now, I’m going back and forth whether to stop.” Seles was surprised that some of the people who wrote Sampras off were his peers.
“It took almost this one for people to appreciate what he’s done,” she said. “What a way to finish your career. At the same time, I really think he has a few more grand slams in him. How cool would that be? Everybody is different. Never say never.”
Which is why she is not putting a strict timetable on her own professional shelf life. In 2002, Seles won two tournaments and defeated Venus Williams in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open.
For Seles, the WTA championships will be her final event with her coach, Mike Sell. Sell has moved to Los Angeles, and Seles intends to keep her home base in Florida.
The Nov. 6-11 tournament at Staples has received a title sponsor, officials said Thursday. It will be called the Home Depot WTA Tour Championships. The company signed a one-year deal with an option for two more.
Teenagers Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia and Kim Clijsters of Belgium have qualified for the tournament, leaving six singles spots remaining. Lindsay Davenport of Laguna Beach improved her chances of qualifying, moving into the 16th spot by reaching the final at Moscow on Sunday. Davenport recently was engaged to Jon Leach, the younger brother of tour doubles specialist Rick Leach.