There was a time in tennis when everyone thought that the 90s were going to be the decade of Steffi Graf (who had won the grand slam in 1988) as the previous decade had been for Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert. Well, eventually it turned out to be true but not before a certain Monica Seles burst onto the scene in 1990.
Monica Seles was born in 1973 in the then Yugoslavia. Her father is credited with developing arguably the most unconventional playing styles ever: playing with both hands on the forehand and backhand. She moved to the Nick Bollettieri academy in the year 1986. In the year 1988 at just the age of just 14, she turned into a professional player. She finished the year 1989 beating the likes of Chris Evert in that year.
But this was just the beginning of what was destined to be one of the briefest yet most lethal forms of domination. In the year 1990 at the age of 16, she became the then youngest grand slam champion defeating Steffi Graff in the finale. She also won the year-end championship against Gabriela Sabatini in the first 5 set match played since 1901.
In the year 1991, she won the Australian, the French and the US Opens defeating Jana Novotna, Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario and Martina Navratilova respectively in the final. She didn’t contest the Wimbledon championships due to an injury. Monica Seles reached the final of each event she entered winning 10 of the 16. She ended the year as world no.1.
The year 1992 marked Monica Seles reaching the finals of all the four grand slams she entered defending her titles in Australia, Paris and New York. She lost the Wimbledon final of that year but lost to Steffi Graff. In the year 1993, she defeated Steffi Graff in the Australian Open match which became her 3rd win against Graff in 4 grand slam finals.
But then something happened that haunts the tennis world to this day. On April 30 during a quarterfinal match with Magdalena Maleeva in Hamburg in which Seles was leading 6–4, 4–3, Günter Parche, an obsessed fan of Steffi Graf, ran from the middle of the crowd to the edge of the court during a break between games and stabbed Seles with a boning knife between her shoulder blades, to a depth of 1.5 cm. Monica escaped: she recovered physically but not quite mentally as she reveals in her autobiography that she suffered from eating disorders and depression following this attack.The irony is that the attacker got away as he was deemed away mentally unstable by the German authorities. Monica Seles vowed never to play in Germany again. The world stood up In one voice against the attack and many bands dedicated songs condemning the incident and praising Monica for her courage.
Monica escaped: she recovered physically but not quite mentally as she reveals in her autobiography that she suffered from eating disorders and depression following this attack. The irony is that the attacker got away as he was deemed mentally unstable by the German authorities. Monica Seles vowed never to play in Germany again. The world stood up in one voice against the attack and many bands dedicated songs condemning the incident and praising Monica for her courage.
The dominance of Monica can be determined by that from January 1991 through February 1993, Seles won 22 titles and reached 33 finals out of the 34 tournaments she played. She compiled a 159–12 win-loss record (92.9% winning percentage), including a 55–1 win-loss record (98%) in Grand Slam tournaments. In the broader context of her first four years on the circuit (1989–1992), Seles had a win-loss record of 231–25 (90.2%) and collected 30 titles. By just the age of twenty, she had collected 8 grand slam titles which still is a record.
In 1995, she returned to the tour. She was ranked no.1 in the world jointly with Steffi Graf which sadly was opposed by the so-called top players of the world at that time as revealed by Seles in her autobiography. In her first tournament after return, Seles won the tournament just losing 14 games. In the US open final, she lost to Steffi Graf 6-7 6-0 6-3. She showed amazing grit, determination and passion for the sport which paved the way for her lifting the 1996 Australian Open her last and final grand slam. Such was the resilience of Monica that she when retired in 2003 she was still ranked no.7 in the world and reached the quarterfinals of all the grand slams.
It would not be wrong to label Monica Seles as the greatest ever because until the freak condemnable incident had occurred she would probably have collected 30 grand slams or even more. Steffi Graf would perhaps have collected 22 grand slam titles and the world would acknowledge her as the no.1 tennis player that ever existed. But for those of us, who are reminded of her class by YouTube videos Seles would always remain the uncrowned queen of tennis who stunned the tennis world with her incredible flexibility and defensive skills combined with lethal shots of both wings.