TENNIS / JULIE CART : Seles Getting More Out of Her Life Lately

Late in getting back from a photo shoot for People magazine, Monica Seles was harried during a conference call last week. Same old story for Seles, who has been in a whirlwind since her comeback in August.

Little surprise, then, that she began by detailing what she has been doing since losing to Steffi Graf in the U.S. Open final in September.

"I was both mentally and physically drained after the Open because of everything that was happening to me, on and off the court," she said. "I took a long layoff after the Open because of my knee [tendinitis in her left knee]. It's better. It's not where I want it. But it's been hot in Florida so I've been getting good workouts."

Seles will play in the Bank of the West Classic, which begins today at Oakland. It will be her third tournament since returning to the tour after a 2 1/2-year absence after she was stabbed in the back during a tournament in Germany.

Her schedule since her return has been predictably hectic. Seles may choose not to duplicate the pace she kept at the U.S. Open, where, in addition to intensive shopping, she went to Broadway shows, nabbed a sideline pass to a Monday night NFL game and was a presenter at the MTV Music Video Awards.

After such a lengthy sequestration, Seles may be reveling in her freedom and new-found sense of security. She said that she intends to stay in San Francisco rather than Oakland for the tournament, so she and friends can explore the city.

"Before the stabbing, I used to go out in the cities I was playing in," Seles said. "When I came back, I wanted to do the same things I did before I got stabbed. Most of the time I am with my friends, but I am much more cautious."

Seles certainly deserves the right to enjoy her life. She is the best judge of her own ability to handle distractions. After all, she has been saying that as important as it is, tennis is no longer the most important thing in her life.


Bobby Riggs, who died last week after a long battle with cancer, did more for women's tennis than he might care to believe. Opinionated, cranky and always hustling, Riggs raised the ire of many girls and women when he taunted and challenged Billie Jean King in the "Battle of the Sexes" in 1973.

That he lost to a great player in her prime should have been no great shock to the then-55-year-old, but the event's impact might have been. The glitzy, televised match did more than popularize tennis, it launched women's tennis into the living rooms and consciousness of Americans.

King says that more than 20 years later people still come up to her and say they bet on the match or watched with friends. Women tell King that the event held a seminal place in their young lives and was a source of pride.

It's not the legacy Riggs might have preferred, but it's a great one nonetheless.


Thumbs down to the Russian Tennis Federation and the Australian Open.

The Russian federation was properly fined $25,000 by the International Tennis Federation for what the ITF termed "unexplained overnight watering," a ruse easily explained by the Russians' hauling out hoses and drenching the clay court the night before it played host to the Davis Cup semifinal against Germany.

Boris Becker said playing on the soggy court was like "jogging on the beach."

The Russians got away with the stunt and defeated Germany, but the gamesmanship did not ultimately go unpunished. The United States is the next guest in Moscow's Olympic Stadium, when the U.S. team faces Russia in the Davis Cup final, Dec. 1-3.

The Australian Open, which likes to think of itself as the friendly Grand Slam event, came up with a decidedly unfriendly gesture to the women's field when it restructured its prize money to eliminate parity between the men and women.

Bad timing on the part of Australian Open officials. Next year's Open probably will be dominated by Graf and Seles going head to head in Seles' first Grand Slam tournament at full strength.

Tennis Notes

Venus Williams, who made her professional debut in Oakland last year, will play in the Bank of the West Classic this week. The same week her 14-year-old sister, Serena, will be joining the family business: she'll be playing a qualifying match at a tournament at Quebec City. . . . Before he began play at a tournament in Beijing, Michael Chang filmed a commercial at the Great Wall. Chang won the tournament and gave his victory speech in Mandarin. . . . John Austin of La Quinta defeated Polo Cowan of San Francisco, 6-4, 6-2, to win the USTA National Men's 30 Grass Court Championship at the PGA West Tennis Club.

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