Monica Seles’ escorts marched under the bright seaside sun from their casino to the Convention Center next door, two-dozen red-and-gold costumed Roman centurians. They would line the way for Seles’ return to tennis.
They marched down the Boardwalk, past the wounded and the lame who park themselves along the ocean for pity, who beg for spare change, hustling their infirmities.
A phony Cleopatra and a phony Marc Antony accompanied Seles, destroying whatever chance dignity had on this day. At least Seles was not carried into the arena on a barge. Upon hearing her introduction, Seles pranced down the gantlet of centurians onto the tennis court and giggled and curtsied and bowed.
The crowd, filling nearly half the hall, stood and cheered and knew they were part of something important because T-shirts commemorating the event were on sale.
Monica Seles was back.
“This whole thing has been to me like wow,” Seles would say later. “I mean, it has been weird. To hear yourself introduced again. I didn’t think I missed the electricity of the crowd. People shouting, ‘Go, Monica!’ in several languages. And somebody saying, ‘Great shot.’ When you are back home, you can hit a great shot and nobody says great shot even when you know it has been a great shot. Everything just felt great, just fabulous today.”
It couldn’t have turned out better. A more suspicious person would think it was fixed. Seles not only won, but Seles felt so good about herself she even waded into a mob - minus her centurians - to sign autographs and return the love she felt.
“Everyone was just so nice and said such wonderful things to me,” Seles said.
Martina Navratilova, the convenient relic, played her part as well. Maybe Navratilova was just a little too encouraging when Seles hit one of those great shots, a little too obvious about keeping the ball in play, so Seles could keep both hands on her racket. But Navratilova had been losing singles matches 6-3, 6-2 to ciphers for sometime before her retirement, and for a lot less than a quarter-million dollars, guaranteed. Seles got the same.
“I am just thrilled to be part of her comeback,” Navratilova said.
Seles’ serve was erratic but harder than in memory. She is taller. “I think her arms are a foot longer,” Navratilova said. Seles’ passing shots were as laser-like as ever. She was less a baseline fixture, and even won match point with a volley coming in.
But this was not about tennis, this was about indulging Seles, easing her way back into a game that thinks it is in desperate need of her, and probably is.
Seles will play at least one tournament before the U.S.
Open, where she will be co-ranked No. 1 with Steffi Graf. Is she ready to win a real match?
“Hey, she beat me and I ain’t no slouch potato out there,” Navratilova said.
Said Seles: “I wanted to be comfortable and have fun, and I achieved both.”
Outside, on the Boardwalk again, the phony centurians marched unself-consciously back to their casino. Not one dropped any money into the tip bucket of a quadrapelic who was strapped on her stomach to a gurney. Her head lolled to one side onto an electronic keyboard, and she played “Amazing Grace” with her tongue.
The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Bernie Lincicome Chicago Tribune
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