Advertisement
Share

Easy Target : Battle-Scarred Monica Seles Is Still Reeling From Her Experiences in a War Zone Called Wimbledon

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The World According to Monica:

Your peers think you sound like the exhaust from a cement mixer; the world’s most important tournament does everything but sell hunting licenses and declare you in season, and the press . . . well, consider this colorful passage from Nick Pitt in the Sunday Times of London:

“The images she conjures on court are certainly unattractive: a figure scuttling along the baseline like a crab; a face screwed up like a rodent’s; a racket wielded like a hag with a frying pan; each blow . . . a grotesque double-handed mirror of the other, punctuated by an exclamation from the torture chamber.”

Pretty complimentary, huh?

Advertisement

Gee, what happened to all the light-hearted fun you’re supposed to have being the No. 1 player in the world?

Call it a honeymoon in hell.

Just a month ago, Monica Seles arrived at Wimbledon safe and secure, confident, unassailable and pretty much unbeatable.

After such a Wimbledon experience culminating in a one-sided loss to Steffi Graf--the first Grand Slam women’s final to be measured by a Gruntometer instead of a scoreboard--Seles might be showing a few scars this week when she steps on the courts at the Manhattan Country Club for the Virginia Slims of Los Angeles.

Advertisement

The two-time defending champion of the $350,000 tournament in Manhattan Beach, Seles finds herself in a totally unfamiliar position--on the defensive.

Imagine how confusing this must be for someone like Seles. After all, here is the preeminent offensive weapon in women’s tennis, whose groundstrokes leap off her racket like lightning bolts heading for the deepest recesses of the corners of the court.

“I guess this is what happens when you’re No. 1,” Seles said. “I was told by some people to expect all this attention and stories and everything, so I should have been better prepared, I guess. But I must admit I’ve been surprised by some of the things that have come out.”

The hyperactive English press set the pace. A year ago, when Seles pulled out of Wimbledon three days before it was to begin, the tabloids speculated on the reasons for her absence and reported everything from Seles being pregnant to her being captured by aliens.

Advertisement

Apparently, Fleet Street didn’t forget Seles’ slight of skipping the country’s most renowned sports event, not counting the Henley Regatta or a test match on the cricket ground at Lords.

A picture of Seles’ rented house in Wimbledon Village, and which street it was on, was printed in most tabloids. At least two newspapers sent reporters to Serbia to find relatives or childhood friends who were willing to criticize Seles for leaving for Florida instead of staying in her native country.

A headline in the Sun said: “She’s much too busy making money nowadays to worry about us, says grandmother.”

Then there was a story about an alleged bomb scare at the rented house, postmatch interview questions asking if Seles was addicted to butter and if she thought her bottom too big, and the biggest controversy of all--grunting.

Advertisement

The whole grunting issue might never have happened if not for the All England Club, which informed the women players they could complain to the chair umpire if Seles made too much noise during a match. Now, it was all out in the open--an issue that became more popular than talking about the weather.

Seles was perplexed. “I’ve played in tournaments all over the world, and Wimbledon is the only one where (grunting) is talked about,” she said.

There is a chance that Seles could run up against Martina Navratilova in the final next Sunday, which would be a rematch of their wonderfully entertaining Wimbledon semifinal, during which Navratilova twice complained to the chair umpire about grunting by Seles.

Think Navratilova is looking forward to a rematch? She doesn’t sound like she is, at least in public.

Advertisement

“Well, Monica is No. 1, but to me, it wouldn’t be any more special to beat Monica than Steff (Graf) or Gabriela (Sabatini),” Navratilova said. “Obviously, I’d take a win over any of them.”

Navratilova supports the general notion among the players who critique Seles that she was louder at Wimbledon than she was before and that she can really control herself anyway.

“I think it’s just emotional,” Navratilova said. “She can (be quiet). Now it becomes an issue because she can get penalized for it.

“Besides, people can’t appreciate her strokes because she’s so noisy.”

Advertisement

It remains to be seen--or heard--whether the grunting issue is over, whether Seles has been able to leave it on the other side of the ocean or whether it will follow in her every sneaker step, perhaps all the way to the U.S. Open later this month.

Or perhaps someone will invent another controversy with Seles’ name on it: She’s too rough with the tennis balls? Her matches are too short? Something will come up.

Consciousness will be raised possibly, not to mention the decibel level.


Advertisement