40 LOVE Inspirations: Kata & Monica
Published March 31, 2013 12:00
MIAMI, FL, USA - Fans often live for their favorite player's matches, but sometimes their favorite player did the same for THEIR favorite player's matches. In 40 LOVE Inspirations, wtatennis.com hopes to bridge the generation gap between the current WTA stars and their own idols from years past.
First off, half of one of the top doubles teams in the world, Slovenia's Katarina Srebotnik.
How did you first get into tennis?
"It's tough to know exactly when the very first moment happened, but I remember I was about seven and was in kindergarten and had too much energy. My parents thought I should do some sports outside of kindergarten, and my father's friend had a summer tennis school I could join. So I went probably once or twice a week, 45 minutes or so each time. It was too expensive to buy a new racquet just for a two month camp so I borrowed one of theirs. I remember being in a big group of kids. I didn't know if I was good but I just enjoyed the game and had fun. After the two months they said I had talent and asked if I wanted to continue in a tennis school during the school year, and of course I did.
"It was then I got my first racquet. My parents bought it for me. It was pink. I don't remember what brand it was but I remember I just loved that racquet. The first day we came home with it I didn't even take my coat off, I immediately started hitting a ball against the wall of our house with it. I also remember scratching it on the concrete that same day and crying. It's a shame I don't have that racquet anymore - we gave it to another girl who was just starting to play because I outgrew it. I wish I had kept that racquet - but of course I had no idea at the time I would be a professional tennis player."
What were your earliest memories of watching tennis on TV?
"I really started following tennis once I started the camp. As soon as I saw Monica Seles on TV, she was my idol. I was always rooting for her with my whole heart. I clearly remember what happened to her in 1993. I was 12 years old at the time. It made me so sad - I really took it very personally. How could somebody do something like that to my idol? I was crying the whole week. And I refused to go to tennis - I didn't want to play that week at all. It was as if Monica were my friend or a family member, and when something happens to someone close to you, you deal with it on that intense level. I kept replaying what happened in my mind. I kept thinking it was just a nightmare and I'd wake up, but no. I started playing again, obviously, but sadly it took her out of the game for a long period of time.
"I was super excited when she came back. I remember she played an exhibition with Martina and won her first tournament back, too. I even remember the skirt she wore, it was black and white squares or something like that. I was waiting so long for the moment she came back and to see what level she was at. Of course it was my wishful thinking for her to return at the top level. She didn't win every tournament she played like she did before - when you're young, you don't know how hard it is to win every tournament, you just want everything to be perfect. And I'm sure all of her fans wanted her to win every tournament. But she still did so well, especially after what she had been through."
Did you ever play against Monica?
"I never did play her on the WTA, but I did play her once in World TeamTennis, in doubles, and we won, 5-0. It was 2002 or 2003 and I was playing with Tina Krizan. It was the last match of the tie and we had to win that match to close it out. Somehow I was able to block out the fact that I was playing my idol - but even though I admired her so much and had so much respect for her, and I was constantly aware of who I was playing, I was able to block it away into a very little corner of my brain.
"She was playing with Magdalena Maleeva, but all I saw was Monica."
When was the first time you met Monica?
"I have a funny story about this... I was 15 years old and playing the Under 18s at the Orange Bowl, and I had made it to the final. I was an IMG player and so was Monica, and we had the same manager, Tony Godsick. He knew I adored her and she was my idol and all these things, so he arranged a surprise phone call the evening before the final. I didn't know anything about it. So there I was in my hotel room and the phone rang, and I picked it up. The connection was okay but I couldn't really hear the person on the other side introducing herself. She spoke in Serbian. I didn't catch her name. She was like, 'Hi, how are you,' just small talk, and I was too embarrassed to ask who it was, I was so young - I just assumed it was another Serbian player calling me to chit chat - so I went along. She told me I was doing very well and wishing me luck for the final, telling me she wished me all the best...
"Then all of a sudden she laughed, and it all clicked. I'd recognize that laugh anywhere. I had seen her interviews. I knew her way of speaking and tone of voice but it was the laugh I recognized. The whole call went on rewind in my mind and I was like, 'Oh my God, this is Monica Seles. You have no clue who you've been talking to.' And I was talking to her like it was no big deal. From that moment on I froze. I couldn't get a word in anymore - firstly because I was embarrassed, wondering if she was wondering why I was so casual, and secondly because I realized who I was actually speaking with.
"I think she wrapped up the conversation shortly after that anyway and we hung up, but for the next two hours I was like, 'Oh my God.' I was on another planet. I was just so happy to talk to her.
"I met her in person at Roland Garros when I was 17, I think, but I'll never forget that call."