Class of 2009
World No. 1 (1991)
Grand Slam Results
9-time major champion and 4-time finalist
Overall Record: 684-167
Singles Record: 595-122
Doubles Record: 89-45
WTA World Tour Championships
Winner at the 1990-1992 Tour Finals
Bronze medal in Women’s Singles at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games
Member of the U.S. Federation Cup Team 1996, 1998-2000, 2002
Member of the Champion U.S. Federation Cup Team 1996, 1999-2000
Overall Record: 17-2
Singles Record: 15-2
Doubles Record: 2-0
You didn’t have to see Monica Seles to know she was playing. You would hear her first.
Her grunts and shrieks were as legendary as her pulverizing two-handed forehand and backhand. U.K. newspaper The Telegraph wrote that she was the inspirations behind Wimbledon’s Centre Court “grunt-o-meter” and recorded her decibel level at 93.2, equivalent to a police whistle, noisy home appliances, a pneumatic drill, and not far below a jackhammer.
The bigger the moment, the louder Seles became, which meant that throughout her career she frequently reached rocket launching levels. “Some people loved it (the grunt), others hated it,” Seles told the Wall Street Journal in 2013. “I grunted since I was age 7. I was a little girl, and they didn’t have kid’s racquets in those days. So my dad just gave me his racquet to play with, but I was tiny, so I put all my energy into it, just the same way I played with two hands from both sides, because I had to. It wasn’t an issue until I became No. 1 and then the competitors always try to find a little edge started to complain, because at the end of the day it [tennis] was a super competitive industry.”
Gabriella Sabatini, who lost to Seles in the 1990 Tour Final at Madison Square Garden, 6-4, 5-7, 3-6, 6-4, 6-2, the first women’s five set match in 89 years, said, “she hits the ball very, very hard.”
From 1991 to 1993 Seles played in eight major singles finals and captured seven of them, all before her 20th birthday. At age 18, when most teenagers are determining their freshman college courses, Seles became the world’s No. 1 ranked player, a slot she held in 1991 and 1992.
Seles was the cornerstone of the Youth Brigade of teenage superstars that mesmerized women’s tennis in the 1990s. Like her contemporary Jennifer Capriati, the powerful counter-punching Seles began playing tennis extremely young, in her case at 5, the age when most kids are in kindergarten. Her father, Karolj, developed his daughter’s prodigious talents at an alarming rate, teaching the left hander how to pound the ball with two hands off both sides. In 1985, at age 11, Seles won the prestigious Orange Bowl Tournament played in Miami, Florida. That victory prompted a Seles family move from native Yugoslavia to the United States the following year. For two years she received advanced training at the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Bradenton, Florida, super-charging her ascent on the women’s professional tour.
Seles became a full-fledged professional in 1989, at age 15, winning her first tournament, the Virginia Slims of Houston, over retiring Chris Evert, 3-6, 6-1, 6-4. The match (played on clay) featured long, strategic rallies, but the younger Seles could pound balls all day and outlasted Evert. It was the dawn of a 2 ½ year reign in women’s tennis, one the sport has not often witnessed. In 1990, at 16 years, 6 months old, Seles became the then-youngest major champion in history, winning the French Open by staving off four set points in the first set tiebreaker to defeat Steffi Graf, 7-6, 6-4. Martina Hingis surpassed that age record in 1997, aged three months younger when she won the Australian Open, but Seles remains the youngest French Open champion in history.
Seles had the distinction of holding three straight French (1990-1992) and Australian (1991-1993) championships, a record she holds singularly. She is one of only four players in history to achieve that feat in Australia, and Seles and Justine Henin (2005-07) are the only three straight French Open Champions in history. In 1992, she reached the finals of all four major singles championships, one of only six players to achieve that distinction.
Seles was incomparable in her pursuit of major championships. She won six straight major finals: 1990 French, 1991 Australian, French, US Open, 1992 Australian and French. When winning the French a third straight time in 1992, she became the first three-peat since Hilde Krahwinkel Sperling in 1937.
The tenacity Seles showed on court was palpable. Her grunts on every shot were a sign of extreme effort, being heard and felt. Her energy in hitting every ball with power, pace and directional skill had her opponents struggling to transfer from defensive into offense tennis. Those who tried to match velocity with Seles saw the dynamo raise her power a notch. Given her penchant for attacking, any balls returned short or softly were drilled for winners. In her nine major singles championships, Seles won in straight sets six times. Jana Novotná took her three sets at the 1991 Australian (5-7, 6-3, 6-1) and Graf pushed Seles hard twice – at the 1992 French (6-2, 3-6, 10-8), her closest major victory, and at the 1993 Australian (4-6, 6-3, 6-2).
In shorter major finales, Seles was a veritable buzz saw, disposing of Arantxa Sánchez-Vicario at the 1991 French (6-3, 6-4), Navratilova at the 1991 US Open (7-6, 6-1), Mary Joe Fernández at the 1992 Australian (6-2, 6-3), Sánchez-Vicario at the 1992 US Open (6-3, 6-3), and Anke Huber at the 1996 Australian (6-4, 6-1). Until she was defeated by Hingis at the 1999 Australian, Seles had won 33 straight matches in Melbourne, the longest unblemished streak in tournament history. She was also a finalist in four majors (1992 Wimbledon, 1995 and 1996 US Open, 1998 French).
“People think I must have been so talented at an early age, but I don’t know,” Seles said. “Was it talent or hard work? Who knows? To get to the top you have to want to play all day, every day.”
Heading into the 1993 season, Seles stood atop the women’s tennis mountain as the world’s No. 1 player and worldwide superstar, but in a few short months she took a dramatic fall, through no fault of her own. On April 30, she was playing a quarterfinal match against Magdalena Maleeva in Hamburg, Germany, leading 6-4, 6-3. An obsessed Steffi Graf fan, Gunter Parche, ran through the stands during a changeover break, leaned over the edge of the court and stabbed Seles between her shoulder blades with a boning knife. The horrific incident caused Seles to take a two-year hiatus from tennis, and caused the establishment to revisit security measures during matches.
Though she never returned to her previous greatness, her return to the tour was newsworthy. Sports Illustrated featured her on its July 17, 1995 cover, reflecting on her two-year absence from a game she dominated. In her two-year recuperation period, Sales grew two inches, reaching nearly 6-feet, which she said “helped my serve.” Seles joked that she “ate a lot of spinach” and had a late growth spurt as she rested, providing her with fuel in her tank to reach the semifinals of the 1995 and 1996 US Open, winning the Australian title in 1996, and advancing to the 1998 French Open championship match.
In 1994, Seles had become a U.S. citizen, allowing her to join the American team in Federation Cup play. She led the U.S. to titles in 1996, 1999, and 2000. She played Hopman Cup for Yugoslavia in 1991 and for the U.S. in 2001 and 2002, winning the team competition in 1991. She competed in the Olympics in both 1996 in Atlanta and 2000 in Sydney, winning a Bronze Medal in singles in 2000 over Aussie Jelena Dokic, 6-1, 6-4.
From 2005 until late 2007, Seles reduced her tour schedule, injuries and the grind of professional tennis taking its toll. She officially retired in February 2008, at age 34, though her last professional match was in 2003. It was a majestic run for Seles, compiling a 595-122 record (83 percent), winning 53 tournaments in singles and six in doubles. Seles won 86 percent of her matches in the majors (180-31), and captured the Tour Finals three straight years (1990, 1991, 1992), and won ten singles tournaments in both 1991 and 1992.
Against players ranked in the world Top 10 or higher, including Sabatini, Capriati, Sánchez-Vicario, Pierce, Mary Joe Fernández, among others, Seles had a decided edge in her all-win record, leading TENNIS Magazine to rank her the 13th top male or female player in history.
Australian Open: W 1991, 1992, 1993, 1996
French Open: W 1990, 1991, 1992
Wimbledon: F 1992
US Open: W 1991, 1992
Australian Open: SF 1991, 2001
Wimbledon: QF 1999
US Open: QF 1999