US Open Icon: Monica Seles
Published August 17, 2011 12:47
By the age of 18, Monica Seles had already won seven Grand Slam titles and captured the No.1 ranking. No player has gone so far, so fast - nor seemed to have so much fun doing it. And while she would win more frequently in Paris and Melbourne, it was the hardcourts of Flushing Meadows that perhaps suited the Seles brand of tennis best.
Seles tackled each ball with relish. Double-fisted off both sides, she took the ball early for unprecedented ferocity off both wings. In this way, she made the return of serve a true weapon, her unorthodox grip producing the most acute angles. In the process she emitted an otherworldly grunt, but even that played well amidst the cacophony on Louis Armstrong Stadium.
Yugoslav-born Seles made her US Open debut in 1989. Just 15, she was the No.12 seed and justified her status by advancing to the fourth round to face Chris Evert. Earlier in the season Seles had beaten Evert to win her first WTA title at Houston, and many thought the gangly newcomer would be the one to end the retiring Evert's career. However, the American great conjured a vintage performance to prevail, 60 62.
Twelve months on and Seles was back in New York as the No.3 seed, only to be upset in the third round by 82nd-ranked Linda Ferrando of Italy. But she quickly put that blip behind her to become the undisputed queen of women's tennis in 1991 and 1992 - winning three of the four Slams in both years.
As top seed, Seles beat Martina Navratilova 7-6(1) 6-1 for her first US crown in 1991. She successfully defended the trophy without conceding a set in 1992, beating Arantxa Sánchez-Vicario in the final, 63 63. Indeed, by the time she edged Graf for a third consecutive Australian Open trophy the following January, Seles had won seven of the last eight Slams contested. But in April 1993 she was stabbed in the back on court in Hamburg, and she was gone from the circuit for 28 months, until the summer of 2005.
At first when Seles - by now a US citizen - returned to tennis in 1995 it seemed she might pick up where she left off. The 21-year-old won her comeback event at Toronto, and as co-No.1 with Graf marched to the final at the US Open, falling to the German in three sets. Seles held a set point in the first set, and won the second to love, but succumbed 76(6) 06 63.
But while Seles won a fourth Australian Open title the following January, and made it to the final at Flushing Meadows once more in 1996 - again she was edged by Graf, 75 64 - the big wins were harder to close out. She remained a Top 10 force for nine seasons after her stabbing, but had to settle for five quarterfinal finishes at Flushing Meadows between 1997 and 2002 - two at the hands of Martina Hingis, and the last against Venus Williams. Her moment had passed, leaving a trail of what ifs.
Monica's US Open highlights:
Champion (2): 1991 (d. Navratilova), 1992 (d. Sánchez-Vicario)
Runner-Up (2): 1995 (l. Graf). 1996 (l. Graf)
Years contested (12): 1989-1992, 1995-2002
Win-Loss Record: 53-10