SINGAPORE - WTA Legend Monica Seles was 29 years old when she played her last match at the 2003 French Open. The nine-time Grand Slam champion has since witnessed the next generation - led by Venus and Serena Williams - play well into their 30s, and theorizes a better work-life balance is at play to allow athletes to continue their careers.
“I think Jennifer [Capriati] was 13 when she came on tour,” she explained during a WTA Legends panel at the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global. “I was 14, I think. So it was a very different era, that generation. We didn't have the age eligibility rule.
"I think our generation, if you lost a match, you took it much harder. Now the losses are a little bit easier. Just from the little that I'm around the tour, when the players lose, they don't take the losses as hard as our generation, which I think is much healthier in the long run. They seem to have a better balance, in general, in life, with tennis and media sponsors, than I think we did. For us there was a lot more one-dimensional, much more towards tennis-tennis.
“I don't know in our generation how many of us wore heels during the two-week Grand Slam tournament,” she laughed. “It’s little things like that, which hopefully will keep the current stars in the game longer because they have that balance.
For Seles and fellow panelists Lindsay Davenport and Kim Clijsters, the advent of social media has been essential in creating a bigger bubble for players not only to become bigger personalities, but also to better engage with one another.
“I would have to say I think the top players, when I came on the tour, were much more reserved, so I figured they're the top players, they know best, so I'm going to follow that example and I kind of followed that. I was always an introvert, so I kind of stayed within my team.
“Tennis was our passion, our life. In that era, you didn't have the social media that you have now, so we were much more removed, much harder to really have a life outside of tennis.”
“I really feel like in the mid-2000s, there was a huge shift of the attitudes of the top players and being more friendly and being more giving,” added Davenport. “A lot of that had to do with players like Roger coming up, and Kim is always so friendly.”
“I did like the fact that there was no social media back in the day,” Clijsters clarified. “It came on I think towards the end of my career, but we are in the middle of it, but I'm happy I played without all that stuff. The focus was very much on tennis and just on tennis.”
A three-time WTA Finals champion, Seles first became a WTA Legends Ambassador in 2016, and while the former World No.1 is open to mentoring members of the next generation, don’t expect to see her in the coaching box anytime soon.
“A couple of the young ladies have my phone number. They know if any time they have any questions for training, tournament schedules and stuff like that I'm there to help them out.
“As for the day-to-day, I like my life right now without that portion, and I think my game was so unorthodox, two hands on both sides. If there would be a player that played kind of like a Marion Bartoli, I could relate to, but otherwise, it would be hard for me, to be really frank, to add to anybody's game at this stage.”
Observing the game from afar, Seles handicapped the WTA Finals field, predicting that the round robin format could provide additional intrigue as the event shifts to the knockout phase.
“I think it's great to see a player like Sloane Stephens, who didn’t start off as well but then winning in Miami and then qualifying here.
“It's an open draw this year, as usual. That's what's so exciting. I think that the players and the fans can see some of the best players play against each other and face each other potentially two times in the tournament.”