It’s As If She Had Never Been Away : Tennis: Monica Seles makes an emotional and successful return to the tour with a 6-0, 6-3 victory over Kimberly Po.
Monica Seles returned Tuesday to the place that brought her solace, the place that ultimately betrayed her. She once again did the thing that used to be fun, the thing that for 28 months was denied her. And it was wonderful.
Seles returned to women’s professional tennis, and the game embraced her as it would a wayward but much-loved child. By way of a token, Seles was rewarded with a victory over Kimberly Po, 6-0, 6-3, in the second round of the du Maurier Ltd. Canadian Open.
The victory really was Seles’ gift to herself, a reward for her months of physical rehabilitation and days and nights of terrifying uncertainty. Once the most gregarious of players, Seles has spent the last two years as a virtual recluse. Thus, her return to tennis before a raucous and vocal crowd of 8,216 represented an emotional healing.
“I can’t put it into words,” Seles said. “It’s great to be back playing. It’s so simple. It’ll be great to get back to that simplicity again. For a long time, day to day, there was so much darkness. I couldn’t think this far ahead. I knew for me to make it to the next step, I had to get on with my life.”
Her tennis life was interrupted on April 30, 1993, when a deranged fan of Steffi Graf plunged a paring knife between Seles’ shoulder blades during a changeover at a tournament at Hamburg, Germany. Seles announced only weeks ago that she would return to the tour, including playing in the U.S. Open later this month.
On Tuesday, security was heavy and visible, with three guards posted behind the players. Seles chose to sit with her back to the crowd, although after the attack on her it has been common practice on the women’s tour for players’ chairs to be set at an angle to the stands.
Seles admitted that thoughts of the attack did creep in.
“Sitting down there, there are going to be times when it’s hard, no question, because of what happened,” she said.
Seles will play Nathalie Tauziat of France in a third-round match today. Seles, who has been given a temporary co-No. 1 ranking with Graf, also shares the top-seeded position here.
Tuesday evening’s match began in deep shadow, a blessing for the players as they were spared the intensity of the day’s heat. As she had been at an exhibition against Martina Navratilova in Atlantic City, N.J., earlier this month, Seles was welcomed warmly by the fans at the National Tennis Centre. The reception made her hands shake and her legs rubbery, Seles said.
Several times, fans called out encouragement to Seles between points and--rare among professionals who often claim to block out all sound during matches--Seles turned and acknowledged the fans.
Afterward, a giddy Seles stood on the court and waved to the applauding crowd that had been brought to its feet in the emotional swell of the moment. Seles then raced to embrace her parents and track coach Bob Kersee, who has helped her regain her fitness.
Po might have felt some of the same mixed emotions known to a sacrificial lamb: honored to be part of the pageantry but not pleased with the inevitable end.
After Seles had won the first eight games, Po might have begun to see the direction the match was taking.
“I knew before the match that every single person would be pulling for her,” Po said. “But I think it’s great. I wish it would happen all the time. It’s a lot different from playing in front of five people--two of them being your parents and one your doubles partner.”