Tennis Prose



Heart of a Champion: Monica Seles

Monica Seles 1991.jpg


By Scoop Malinowski

This new Heart of a Champion series will share and celebrate memories and anecdotes that show a tennis player’s heart of a champion…

Sarasota Herald Tribune sports columnist Mic Huber was asked by Ray Collins of PLAY SARASOTA Magazine who his favorite player of all time is?

“Monica Seles. I’ve known her since she was eleven. She’s a truly nice person. She’ll stop and talk to a child and their parents on the street or someone with a pet – and she remains in contact with people she met on the street and befriended. I remember that I used to get a handwritten Christmas card from her when she was a teenager. Over the years I could call her any time and if she didn’t answer, she’ll call back. After he stabbing, when she was finally thinking about making a comeback, we met out on Longboat Key for an interview. I remember that she drove out there by herself.”


  • Hartt · December 22, 2017 at 11:11 am

    Scoop, this is a great idea for a series. Looking forward to the next pieces.

  • EquineAnn · December 22, 2017 at 5:28 pm

    I used to love her when I was in Middle School & we were learning to play tennis. I remember her playing like it was yesterday I remember her stabbing like it was yesterday too & was absolutely disgusted by it. Dad bought me white shorts, a white t-shirt & white plimsolls as well as got his old racquets & balls out (because I told him how we learnt at school & he didn't like the way they taught me to serve). We watched Wimbledon (I found McEnroe the most entertaining player but liked a few of them) & then ate strawberries & cream which we bought from a P.Y.O. & rinsed it down with orange squash. Of course we picked our own. Then we played tennis in the garden as we have a big back garden so had room for the dog kennel, flower garden & vegetable patch at 1 side & to play tennis at the other side. I was never any good at returning but learnt how to serve aces & had fun. (Other than long jump, squash, floor gymnastics & trampolining it was my favourite P.E. class) I was a big Cliff Richard fan so also enjoyed the music when rain stopped play as there was no roof & Cliff used to start singing.

  • Scoop Malinowski · December 22, 2017 at 5:46 pm

    Scoop Malinowski writes:

    Thank you Hartt, I just got another great story today from my friend about Ivan Lendl, which I will share soon…

  • Scoop Malinowski · December 22, 2017 at 5:50 pm

    Scoop Malinowski writes:

    Nice post Ann, you have a unique style of writing, so relentlessly unrestrained ๐Ÿ™‚ We all loved Seles and I think everyone liked her except that one cuckoo. I first saw Seles play at the Mahwah Open, which was an exo in July in north Jersey. I sat in the first row behind a baseline and Seles would quietly thank the ballkids every time when they tossed her a ball to serve.

  • EquineAnn · December 22, 2017 at 6:03 pm

    Thank you very much, Scoop. I love to reminisce. I loved lots of other players too. I'm a good multi-tasker & very spontaneous so can change topic very quickly & move round in circles to get to the same point while still being understood most of the time. I write mainly in rhyme so normally write songs & poems though I do write stories & other things too. I'm more into oId books than new so sometimes use old-fashioned spelling, punctuation & grammar rules as well as vocab (of the British because I'm British). I like puns sometimes too. I say exactly what I think euphemistically. That sounds nice. What a polite, young lady!

  • Scoop Malinowski · December 22, 2017 at 7:13 pm

    Scoop Malinowski writes:

    I have to admit Equine Ann that I thought for a few moments that your post could have been spam comment which we strangely get sometimes here and have to delete. But after one review I managed to decipher it was the work of a unique wordsmither ๐Ÿ™‚

  • EquineAnn · December 22, 2017 at 7:29 pm

    I often find links between things that not everyone gets or gets immediately, Scoop. There's always a link between what I put & the topic. Not everything in the middle is always relevant but the beginning & end are. I like puns too so sometimes add them in but whereas some people always make it obvious I can do it subtly. I am very unique & spontaneous. :0) I'm very articulate but although I facilitate things for people, not everyone always understands me. Me & some of my friends like my witticisms & think they're fun. Thank you very much.

  • Nekro · December 23, 2017 at 12:34 am

    I love her Hungarian… It's standard Hungarian but from time to time she uses archaic variants of certain words, like in this video she says "magos" instead of "magas" (high) when she's talking about the ball's bounce…. It's something that you find in old books or in villages in certain counties like Somogy in Hungary for example.

    She also says that this is a great time to watch tennis because there are so many good players with great variety of styles…..

  • catherine · December 23, 2017 at 3:17 am

    Scoop – I’m another cuckoo. I was never a great fan of Monica’s. Can’t say why exactly but it was mostly her style of play I think. People used to say Steffi retired because Monica came along but that was rubbish. Steffi would have retired anyway.

    The stabbing incident inflicted more psychological damage than physical and I don’t think we ever saw what kind of player Monica would have developed into if that had not happened.

  • Scoop Malinowski · December 23, 2017 at 9:13 am

    Scoop Malinowski writes:

    Keep on wordsmithin' ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Scoop Malinowski · December 23, 2017 at 9:17 am

    Scoop Malinowski writes:

    Catherine; Steffi retired when her body shutdown, she played for many years after the stabbing and after Monica returned. Sometimes I wonder if the deranged Gunther Parche informed Graf in his love letters to her that he was going to stab Seles and if Graf had the prior knowledge of the crime but did not relay it to authorities.

  • catherine · December 23, 2017 at 10:19 am

    Scoop – I really think that’s a conspiracy too far. If true, and proven, Steffi would have been an accessory to the crime (at least in English law and probably in German) and could have spent a lengthy stretch in the slammer. So, no.

    Steffi played 4 years after Monica returned and then retired, because, as you say, her body gave up.
    There was never a rivalry when both players were at the top of their games.
    Did Steffi have a genuine rival ? She was well ahead of Sabatini, who retired much earlier, and dominated Novotna, who was Steffi’s age.

  • EquineAnn · December 23, 2017 at 11:44 am

    Thank you very much. I love playing both pun & poetic ping-pong.

  • Andrew Miller · December 23, 2017 at 2:01 pm

    Monica Seles probably second best player to Serena Williams in terms of capabilities on court. Not demeaning Graf in any way. I’d put it Williams, Seles, Navratilova, Graf, Henin, Venus Williams, Capriati, Evert in terms of Talent.

    That’s my opinion. I didn’t love Seles grunting, and I also could not deny her ability and her champions presence.

    Seles is a good judge of talent herself. She always praises the Williams and she is charitable to Graf, Navratilova, other champions of her era and past eras. A very good person.

    Probably one of greatest tragedies of modern tennis era and tennis history. There are others, this was severe. That she’s still in and of the sport is a credit to Seles. The wind came out of her sails not only from the trauma but when her dad died. Though a lot of coaches like talking about her I think most of them gave her court time with her dad.

    Probably Navratilova, Muster, Rios, Seles, Nadal, McEnroe, Connors all lefties all among most fascinating players of last forty years.

  • Andrew Miller · December 23, 2017 at 2:02 pm

    Though Nadal is a forced lefty.

  • Andrew Miller · December 23, 2017 at 2:08 pm

    Seles had no rivals when she seized the sport. The Graf game had issues, she also executed her bread and butter strategy better than any player in history. Seles seized the top spot in dramatic fashion.

    I’d advise any young player to study how Seles took over the wta. Or how Serena did it. Basically no one saw it coming and they were brave enough to match other players shot for shot.

    Nadal did the same thing. Djokovic too when he was ready. Federer seems to have developed this too, I think he used to love running up the score on an opponent out of fear they might catch him. Now I think he’s better at the one on one aspect of the sport, the boxing aspect of outplaying the opponent.

  • Andrew Miller · December 23, 2017 at 2:10 pm

    I don’t include Davenport, Clijsters, Capriati etc as top players of the era. My opinion, they are plenty good. Not at the same level, even as a Musters or Novotna.

    Novotna was a beautiful player.

  • catherine · December 23, 2017 at 2:43 pm

    Seles came along at the right time but I can’t honestly put her up there with Serena – and Serena was around from the time she was 16 or so, stayed around for years so didn’t really take over the sport suddenly.

    Steffi dominated as no one else had for a long time, her ability to hit the ball from any place on the court – you couldn’t put her into a category. It’s shame her body wasn’t able to stand up to the demands made on it.

    Yes, Novotna was a lovely player – she started in doubles and developed her singles game by force of will. I didn’t see her play that much and unfortunately her W’don win isn’t available on Youtube but I did see enough to appreciate her sheer class. She was greatly liked as a competitor and well remembered and it’s a shame her career did not last longer and her serve/volley style disappeared with her.

    Of all the tributes after her death I liked Sarafova’s the best: ‘She will always be our legend.’

    To be sentimental – I’d like to see a Czech win W’don next year because it’s the tournament Jana loved the most.

  • Scoop Malinowski · December 23, 2017 at 5:13 pm

    Scoop Malinowski writes:

    Actually Graf had no rivals and then Seles burst on the scene like a young Mike Tyson and blasted Graf off the court by taking the ball early, super early and ripping incredible angles. Graf was totally dominant, winning most matches in twenty or thirty minutes. The rise of Seles was phemomenal. It was not unlike Federer dominating and then being sensationally knocked off his perch by Nadal.

  • EquineAnn · December 23, 2017 at 5:18 pm

    I liked Steffi Graf too. I remember watching the match where Monica Seles defeated her. It was sensational.

  • Andrew Miller · December 23, 2017 at 6:26 pm

    I agree that Seles came out of left field. And she did pull the rug out from Graf, even if Navratilova and Sabatini were trying hard, so too the Maleeva sisters. Zina Garrison had a moment. Aranxta Sanchez had more than a few moments, probably an underappreciated champion.

    Seles really came from nowhere. Grip it and rip it. Her angles, it was new. It still is new. If any women’s player were to find the angles Seles did they’ll be top five.

  • Andrew Miller · December 23, 2017 at 6:28 pm

    I liked Graf and I also found it frustrating she wasn’t open to hitting through the backhand. An example of why change anything if it’s working? She was a hall of fame even before Seles began making the wta quake in its boots.

  • jg · December 23, 2017 at 6:35 pm

    I watched the third set of a classic match on tennis channel today Graf v Serena at Indian Wells when Serena was 17. Serena won 7 5 in the third, I really liked how Serena was playing then, she seemed to be attacking the net more.

  • catherine · December 24, 2017 at 2:52 am

    The Graf/Seles argument is a bit futile because neither was at her best at the same time and Steffi retired and before that Monica got stabbed and was never the same.

    I remember Monica missing W’don one year and everyone saying it was because she was afraid she couldn’t beat Steffi. So there was talking up a rivalry back then and it didn’t happen.
    (I actually think Steffi would have worked out how to play Seles if the timing had been right. She was a very inventive player but there was hardly a month in her life when she didn’t have some kind of injury).

    Andrew – as for angles, you pointed out once (and how long ago that seems) Kerber’s ability to make angles won her a lot of matches. Then she lost her confidence, her angles and the matches. I’m not comparing Kerber with Seles but if Angie could get that geometry back she’d go up the rankings again. Got her to No 1, not just top 5. At 30 ? – Fisette should be telling her – be aggressive, cut short the rallies, make the angles.

  • scoopmalinowski · December 24, 2017 at 6:54 am

    The Graf slice dominated everyone but Seles. In Facing Graf several players revealed the winning formula vs Graf but it was so hard to do with her forehand so lethal but it was to ultimately make Graf hit a running bh.

  • catherine · December 24, 2017 at 7:49 am

    When did you do Facing Graf ?

  • Andrew Miller · December 24, 2017 at 9:19 am

    Catherine, I’ve been underwhelmed by Kerber after she seized the top slot. More power to her given her recommitment. Being number one must be awful if everyone that gets there seems to forget how to play the game!

  • Andrew Miller · December 24, 2017 at 9:22 am

    Many players picked up on the angles approach. Seles changed the game. No one did it as well.

  • catherine · December 24, 2017 at 9:48 am

    Andrew – I would think Angie’s been the most underwhelmed ๐Ÿ™‚

    Her introverted personality just wasn’t suited to being No 1. Can happen. Of course she didn’t know that before she got there.

    Seles didn’t invent angles although she played them pretty well. I’m always a little wary of saying anyone ‘changed the game’. Somebody always did it before.

    Kerber’s strength was her speed and angles. She lost her compass bearings there because she lost her focus. Looking ahead, many things of course won’t bother her now she’s ranked 21.

  • Andrew Miller · December 24, 2017 at 2:05 pm

    Catherine, the wta tour has a fascinating habit of featuring players that reach number one and that are rarely the top player while being number one. Only a few seem to match the ranking with their performance after rising to the top spot. It’s amusing. Based on results of players that reach the top spot after they get there, players should definitely not want to be number one! They should have different goals, aka win Toronto etc.

  • Andrew Miller · December 24, 2017 at 2:11 pm

    Seles certainly shook up the wta, she really was incredible. Just like Graf who began beating everyone and they had no idea what was going on.

    Rios brought a new take to the tour. McEnroe. Connors. Apparently Pancho Gonzalez was something else. Henin with her revolutionary backhand, which was like Conchita Martinez with far more power and control.

    As much as perseverance these players were innovators. Nadal with his my backhand is a forehand, who else did that? Muster and his ability to rip every shot.

    I don’t see it as these players paying tribute, they actually seemed to need to bring new kinds of shots.

    This is why when Federer asks why don’t other play like me, it’s a fair question. Why don’t they play like Federer?

    A player who is bringing something unique as far as I can tell is Shapovalov. I hope he stays healthy, keeps his head together, surrounds himself with people who work for his improvement and sanity.

  • Andrew Miller · December 24, 2017 at 2:13 pm

    Sampras too. It may be because players are individuals and if all play the same way it becomes predictable.

  • catherine · December 24, 2017 at 2:49 pm

    Andrew – well, since the wta produces a dominating player only once in a while that is what we really would expect – players of the second rank alternating with each other for the top position and changing fequently.

    Serena has reigned for a long time and unless some new dominating player crops up we’ll go back to the status quo. My suspicion is that the days of super domination may be over for the time being.

    About Steffi – anyone who saw her play, from her mid-teens onwards, knew that she was going to be a great player. She didn’t come from nowhere. Players very seldom do.

    Did Steffi leave a legacy ? I really don’t know.
    Angie idolised Steffi when she was young but plays nothing like her.
    Simona says she admired Henin but Simona doesn’t play like Justine either.

    Federer – other guys don’t play like him for one very simple reason: they’re not Roger.

    About No 1, particularly in the WTA – a player in that spot has to do a lot more off court stuff now than they did in previous eras. Some players can cope with this, Serena clearly can, others find it a burden and a distraction. Angie couldn’t run around trying to please everyone and still perform on court. She broke down at the USO.
    I’m interested to see how Simona deals with it, assuming she stays at the top for any length of time.

  • Scoop Malinowski · December 24, 2017 at 3:01 pm

    Scoop Malinowski writes:

    Catherine: I haven't finished Facing Graf yet but I've done I think 12 interviews and it's coming along nicely. Need about 15-20 more.

  • Scoop Malinowski · December 24, 2017 at 3:02 pm

    Scoop Malinowski writes:

    Bollettieri and some players told me no one took the ball earlier than Seles and her angles off the ball on the rise were game changing.

  • Scoop Malinowski · December 24, 2017 at 3:05 pm

    Scoop Malinowski writes:

    Why don't players play like Federer? Why don't artists paint like DaVinci? Why don't singers make music like George Michael? Why don't more players serve like Sampras? It's a bit easier said than done. Dimitrov looks pretty close to Federer's example, very close. He's no 3 in the world.

  • catherine · December 24, 2017 at 3:19 pm

    Scoop – so who plays like Seles now ? Just give me one. Out of interest.

    Hope you can get some good interviews for the Steffi book – I’ll definitely buy it. Are you going to be able to talk to Gabriela ?

  • Scoop Malinowski · December 24, 2017 at 3:50 pm

    Scoop Malinowski writes:

    Catherine; I would say Bartoli is the closest style to Seles though Bartoli does not create the acute angles Seles could. Bartoli is more straight bash it back and forth tennis. Peng Shuai is another two hander off both sides but just not able to get those wicked angles Seles could. Hope to see Sabatini in Miami and if I do I will pounce on her for an interview. I read recently she is selling her condo in Key Biscayne.

  • EquineAnn · December 24, 2017 at 4:50 pm

    Everyone has their own style. I wish more artists would paint like George Stubbs. I guess I could ask why more poets couldn't write like Geoffrey Chaucer, more singers sing like Celine Dion & more authors write like Charlotte Bronte or Charles Dickens going by your chain of thoughts.

  • Andrew Miller · December 24, 2017 at 7:12 pm

    Hingis was all angles. Knew the court.

  • catherine · December 25, 2017 at 2:31 am

    Andrew – the truth is, angles are part of tennis – always have been. Some just do them better than others.

    ‘Put the ball where your opponent can’t reach it.’
    The sage speaks ๐Ÿ™‚

    Scoop – yes , I saw Sabatini is selling her place in Florida. If you can’t catch her in Miami maybe a trip to BA will be on the cards.
    There’s a documentary about Steffi on Youtube, a few years ago, and Gabriela was interviewed in that. It’s German but with subtitles. Gabriela spoke English I think. Don’t know if it’s still there but I’ll have a look.

    Back and forth bashing tennis drives me nuts with boredom so that’s most of the WTA switched off.

  • catherine · December 25, 2017 at 3:24 am

    Andrew – a last word from me on this WTA No 1 business: because of the way the WTA calculate rankings it’s possible to stay No 1 long after your results have ceased to justify it. Kerber was No 1 for 34 weeks I think but she was in fact no longer a functional No 1 after Australia. Wasn’t her fault but only added to her tribulations.

    Serena was No 1 for months when she wasn’t playing at all.

    In previous eras No 1 was more or less the player who won the most tournaments, with a weighting to the GSs.
    And the position wasn’t the Holy Grail it is now. Winning Wimbledon was.

  • catherine · December 25, 2017 at 10:14 am

    Scoop – there’s a match put on Youtube a couple of weeks ago, Graf/Novotna at Brighton (Eng) 1992 – 3 sets and tiebreak won by Steffi. Good allcourt play from both. Plenty of slicing ๐Ÿ™‚

    Jana would probably have had some insights about Steffi – she played her many times. Mostly lost, but enjoyable to watch.

  • Scoop Malinowski · December 25, 2017 at 4:59 pm

    Scoop Malinowski writes:

    Catherine, I will look that TB in Brighton up. Jana would have been a great interview for Facing Graf, anyone who played her even just in practice or in junior or just one pro match has a unique story to tell. I interviewed Elise Burgin who only played Graf once in singles and it was solid gold stuff, about ten minutes worth.

  • catherine · December 26, 2017 at 3:17 am

    Scoop – you’re right – so many players were absolutely fascinated by Steffi, even though for some their time on court with her was necessarily brief.

    A little bit of the ‘deer in the headlights’ about her opponents’ attitudes. And yet, watching Graf again during that Brighton match something occurred to me – maybe ‘distance lends enchantment’ etc. We kind of think about Steffi as though she were perfection in every match but of course she wasn’t, she doublefaulted, overhit, missed volleys, did all those things and yet came out the winner.
    Overwhelming belief in herself, concentration, and ability to dig out the right shot at the right time – that’s what came across the net and was so intimidating.

    And all without occ ๐Ÿ™‚

  • britbox · January 3, 2018 at 7:45 pm

    scoop said:

    Scoop Malinowski writes:

    Actually Graf had no rivals and then Seles burst on the scene like a young Mike Tyson and blasted Graf off the court by taking the ball early, super early and ripping incredible angles. Graf was totally dominant, winning most matches in twenty or thirty minutes. The rise of Seles was phemomenal. It was not unlike Federer dominating and then being sensationally knocked off his perch by Nadal.Click to expand…

    Scoop, it's an urban myth that Seles "blasted Graf off court"…

    Graf led the H2H before and after the stabbing. Even limiting the H2H to the two years where Monica finished #1, Graf still had the edge on a H2H. What isn't in doubt is that Seles blew the field apart during her rise…and we were denied some of her best years.

  • GameSetAndMath · January 3, 2018 at 9:22 pm

    I don't know as a matter of fact, but I think Seles probably won more Slams as a teenager than any other WTA player.



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