Thursday, July 16, 2009
Seles Hurt Her Spot In History
Monica Seles entered the Tennis Hall of Fame recently.
With her go the nine Grand Slam titles, the No. 1 ranking, the innovative grunting.
Even more, one theme holds serve with so many tennis fans: If Seles had not been knifed 16 years ago, she would’ve been the greatest women’s player in history.
The stabbing simply follows her. Seles certainly didn’t dodge it at her Hall induction in Newport, R.I.: “I would like to thank all my tennis fans who were there from my No. 1 days, through my stabbing, and my comeback.”
It’s really Seles’ signature as Mary Carillo and other tennis voices laud her in “should’ve been the greatest” terms.
After all, Seles had won eight Slam trophies by the spring of 1993. She had passed Steffi Graf as the world’s dominant player.
The pro-Seles campaign makes it clear: At just 19, Seles was on course to smash Grand Slam records. Only the attack of April 30, 1993, when German sicko Guenter Parche stabbed her in the upper back during a tournament in Hamburg, kept her from reaching the all-time pinnacle.
No one has publicly disputed that, so let me be the lone dissenter: Monica Seles blew it.
She must take responsibility for throwing away the meat of her tennis prime after she had physically recovered from the stabbing.
Seles lost her shot at all-time No. 1 because she left the pro circuit for two years and three months after the mugging. She thus skipped two U.S. Opens, two Australian Opens, two French Opens and two Wimbledons in which she really was healthy enough to compete.
She said during her 1993-95 break that the half-inch wound had healed — that the mental trauma was keeping her from playing.
Mental trauma? Let’s tell it like it is: She wasn’t tough enough to bounce right back.
Paul Pierce was stabbed in his neck, back and chest and hit over the head with a bottle in a nightclub brawl in September 2000. A month later he was in training camp for the Boston Celtics.
Picabo Street blew out her left knee while training for the ski season in December 1996. She was skiing again seven months later, and seven months after that won the Olympic super G gold medal.
Niki Lauda nearly burned to death in a Grand Prix car crash in 1976 and was back on the track in seven weeks. He won the world championship the next year.
Now that’s physical and mental trauma. Those athletes faced fear and conquered it immediately. They had the steel Seles lacked.
If Graf had been knifed, here’s betting she would’ve played within two months. Ditto Serena Williams. They’re stone-cold champions — damned if a little knife job would knock them out 27 months.
All Graf did during Seles’ hiatus was keep winning — on the way to a near-record 22 Grand Slam titles. Many tennis followers take offense at that, since it was a Graf fan who stuck it to Seles. Furthermore, say those fans, Seles was dominating Graf before the Hamburg ambush.
That’s another point no one disputes. Until now.
Seles did stop Graf’s 66-match winning streak in the 1990 Berlin final. And beat her in the French Open finals of 1990 and ’92.
Yet Graf had a 10-5 edge lifetime against Seles. And on the biggest stage of all — the Wimbledon final — Graf waxed Seles 6-2, 6-1 in 1992.
Graf, who had her own problems with her wayward father, had what it took to overcome them. She won big time on every surface. She’s the greatest champion of them all.
Seles will forever ponder why she let that knife-inflicted pause drag out into two-plus years.
It’s a decision that shows she didn’t have that champion’s mettle, no matter what the TV puff pieces say.
Bucky Fox is an author and editor in Southern California and runs BuckyFox.com.