Seles Honored by Hall of Fame

One of the most successful and charismatic players of the last two decades is now enshrined as an all-time great.

Published July 13, 2009 12:28

NEWPORT, RI, USA - During her career she charmed fans with her rambling, giggly speeches and on Saturday, July 10 Monica Seles showed she had lost none of her capacity to entertain. The occasion might have been the nine-time Grand Slam champion's induction into the august International Tennis Hall of Fame, but that didn't stop the 35-year-old from treating the assembled audience to a cheeky blast from the past.

"For old time's sake, here it is," the former world No.1 grinned as she prepared to unleash one of her trademark grunts. "Eeeunnh!

"I just had to do it," she smiled, having reminded all present that, as still-controversial grunts go, hers' was the original and best.

Admission to the Hall of Fame is, nonetheless, a serious business and Seles, with her withering double-fisted-off-both-sides groundstrokes, is certainly a worthy addition. The winner of 53 Tour titles sat atop the rankings for a total of 178 non-consecutive weeks (fifth all-time) and won the 1991 and 1992 US Opens, the 1990-92 French Opens and the 1991-93 and 1996 Australian Opens. She also captured the Tour Championships three years running, from 1990-92.

"Growing up as a little girl, I could never dream I would be inducted into the Hall of Fame," said the winner of nearly $15 million in prize money. "I have a hard time believing it now.

"I grew up on the WTA Tour. That was my home," added the Yugoslav-born American, who famously copied Madonna's platinum-blonde look in the early 1990s. "I grew up in the media spotlight. It can be challenging at times."

Indeed, Seles knows perhaps better than any other player in history the downsides that come with fame and fortune.

Her career was interrupted in the most terrible of circumstances when she was stabbed in the back by a fanatical supporter of Steffi Graf during a match at Hamburg in 1993. It took 27 months, but eventually Seles returned to competitive tennis, winning her comeback event at the Canadian Open, reaching the US Open final and then capturing what would prove to be her last major at the 1996 Australian Open.

And yet, things were never really the same. Since her retirement, Seles has spoken and written movingly of her struggle to come to terms with the stabbing, the loss of her beloved father Karolj in 1998, depression and body image issues. But through it all she carried herself with tremendous dignity, only adding to the regard with which she is held in tennis circles. Rather than dwell on what might have been, she has burnished her reputation by giving her time to a range of charities, including the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation and the UN's program for sports as a way to counter malnutrition.

Seles was one of four Hall of Fame inductees this year. Joining her were 1960s Spanish player Andres Gimeno, pioneering sports marketer Donald Dell and the late Robert Johnson, a junior player developer who helped launch the careers of Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe.

Whereas Seles became the youngest French Open winner when she won at Roland Garros aged 16-and-a-half, Gimeno became the oldest French Open men's winner by taking the 1972 title at age 34.

"What an amazing group," observed Seles. "It's such a great honor. Standing here, I'm just a bundle of nerves."

Seles, who played her last Tour match at Roland Garros in 2003 but officially retired only in February 2008, has donated many of her trophies to the Hall of Fame's 'honor shine'.

"I hope it will inspire young children to pick up a racket, hit a few balls and fall in love with the sport the way I did," she said. "I look forward to watching the sport and seeing how much faster it can get."

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