Monica Seles is a former Yugoslavian tennis sensation who became the youngest female player to rank World No. 1, at the age of 17. Born in Yugoslavia, Seles was a wunderkind who began playing tennis at the age of five, soon becoming the best junior player of the country. Upon winning a junior tournament in Florida, Seles was spotted by the tennis coach Nick Bollettieri who approached her to join his academy, where she excelled at her game. Seles emerged as a tennis star when she became the youngest ever winner of the French Open, at the age of 16, beating Steffi Graf. From 1991 to 1993, she dominated women’s tennis and won nine Grand Slam titles which included the Australian Open four times, the French Open three times and the US Open twice. Known for her aggressive playing style and the unique grunts she made with nearly every shot, she became the youngest ever singles player to rank number one in the world. In 1993, Seles was heading towards unprecedented success until her career came to a sudden halt when she was stabbed in the back by a deranged fan of Steffi Graf. While recovering from the tragic incident, Seles remained away from tennis for two years. Although, later she returned to achieve some further success but was unable to regain her earlier form as a dominant player and officially retired in 2008. Regarded by many to be the first female power player, Seles is considered one of the all-time greats of the game.
Childhood & Early Life
Monica Seles was born on December 2, 1973, in Novi Sad, Yugoslavia, to Karolj Seles, a cartoonist, and his wife, Ester, a computer programmer. She was the second child of her Hungarian parents with an elder brother, Zoltan.
Coached by her father, Seles started playing tennis at the age of five. She used an unorthodox method, one that consists of using both hands to hit her forehand and backhand shots which allowed her to put more power into her game.
As she grew up, Seles came to be recognized as a child prodigy and won numerous tennis championships including the European 12-and-under championship, at the age of 10. Later, she participated in an American junior tournament where she was spotted by the tennis coach, Nick Bollettieri, who offered to train her.
Thereafter, the family moved to United States for Seles’ career and she worked hard to excel in tennis, at Nick’s academy for the next two years. By the age of 13, Seles became the No. 1 junior tennis player in the world.
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Monica Seles turned professional at the age of 15, and won her first career title in May 1989, defeating Chris Evert in the final. The following month, she reached the semifinals of the French Open but lost to then world number one women tennis player, Steffi Graf, and earned a number six ranking by the end of her first year.
The following season, Seles recorded win in 6 consecutive tournaments including the Lipton Player's Championships, the U.S. Hard Court Championships, the Eckerd Open, the Italian Open, and the Lufthansa Cup where she defeated Graf in the final.
Subsequently, Seles went on to register her first Grand Slam victory when she won the 1990 French Open, defeating Graf in the final. At the age of 16, Seles also became the youngest player ever to win the Roland Garros tournament and concluded the year on the tour ranked world no. 2.
In 1991, the 17-year-old Seles dominated the women’s tennis by winning the Australian Open and made history upon becoming the youngest player to hold the world number one ranking. Subsequently, she defended her French Open title and registered victories in many tournaments including the U.S. Open, her third Grand Slam title of the year.
In 1992, she asserted her dominance at the women’s game and successfully defended her Grand Slam titles, winning the Australian Open, the French Open and the U.S. Open. Between January 1991 and February 1993, Seles captured wins in 33 of the 34 tournaments she entered.
Just when it appeared that Seles would rule as the queen of Women's Tennis for years to come, a bizarre incident took place which forced her career come to a standstill. In the spring of 1993, while playing in a tournament in Hamburg, Germany, she was stabbed in the back by a crazy fan of Steffi Graf.
On April 30, 1993, during a changeover in an ongoing match, Gunter Parche, a fanatical Graf fan, stabbed Seles with a boning knife between her shoulder blades. It was later revealed that Parche was mentally unstable whose intention in stabbing Seles was to help Graf regain her World no.1 ranking.
Although Seles received immediate medical assistance for her physical injury, she was treated for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder after the incident and chose to remain away from tennis for the next two years.
In July 1995, Seles returned to the court and won her fourth Australian Open title in 1996, but she continuously struggled to regain her earlier competitive edge at the game. Being a United States citizen since 1994, Seles helped the U.S. team win the Fed Cup in 1996, 1999, and 2000.
After sustaining a foot injury, she played her last official tour match at the 2003 French Open. At the time of her official retirement in 2008, Seles had won 53 career singles titles, including nine Grand Slam championship titles.
In 1990, Seles became the youngest-ever French Open champion, at the age of 16, an accomplishment she still holds. She also holds the record of simultaneously winning 3 consecutive Australian Open and French Open titles, between 1990 and 1993.
Awards & Achievements
At the age of 12, Seles earned the title of Yugoslavia's Sportswoman of the Year.
In January 2009, she was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
In June 2011, the Time Magazine listed her among the ‘30 Legends of Women's Tennis: Past, Present and Future’.
Personal Life & Legacy
Since 2009, Monica Seles has been in a relationship with Tom Golisano, a wealthy American businessman who is 32 years older than her. In June 2014, the couple announced their engagement.