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CHAMPION’S ALLEY: MONICA SELES

Champion’s Alley: A series looking at the former champions at the WTA Finals. This week, Mark Hodgkinson focuses on 3-time champion Monica Seles

Playing at Madison Square Garden in New York City, Monica Seles found herself feeding off the energy of the crowd: "It was like the fans were living every single point with you, and there was no feeling like it."

And it was just as well that she was energised by competing there, as the conclusion of the 1990 WTA Finals saw Seles and her Argentine opponent, Gabriela Sabatini, play the first women's five-setter for 89 years, with the match lasting almost four hours. Understandably, the longer the match went on, the more Seles regretted skipping lunch, and she decided to become more aggressive, to be as bold as she could be. This was the longest women's match since the 1901 United States Nationals, and when it was over, Sabatini was so exhausted she could barely walk and 16-year-old Seles, who had trailed by two sets to one, had become the youngest champion in the tournament's history. "I told myself that I would have to go for it. It was very close for five sets and the amazing thing was that neither of us made any stupid mistakes," said Seles, and that victory was no fluke as she would win the title again the following year, on that occasion needing four sets - not the whole five - to defeat Martina Navratilova in the final.

And then the next year, she beat Navratilova again in the best-of-five-sets final, requiring only three sets to achieve her victory. The win made her the first player since Navratilova to win three successive titles at the WTA Finals. Sadly, Seles didn't have the opportunity to extend that run, after being stabbed in the back when playing at a tournament in Hamburg in 1993. Who knows how many more titles she would have won at the tournament if that horrific attack in Germany had never happened? But Seles did make another appearance in the title-match at the tournament, finishing as the runner-up to Martina Hingis in 2000.

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Mark Hodgkinson is the author of 'Game, Set and Match: Secret Weapons of the World's Top Tennis Players' (Bloomsbury, May 2015).




 

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