Monica Seles’ sad trek through a sport she used to happily dominate took another wrenching turn Monday when she lost in the third round on a cold, sunless day at Wimbledon.
Sandrine Testud of France defeated the second-seeded Seles 0-6, 6-4, 8-6, thwarting Seles’ attempt to win the one Grand Slam title she has not claimed.
And with only seven of the 16 seeded women remaining, top-seeded Martina Hingis appears to have little between her and the title. Mary Joe Fernandez is the only American left, making this the first Wimbledon since 1936 in which so few American woman have advanced to the fourth round.
Seles, once the standard bearer for American women, has recently suffered through injuries, setbacks and indifferent results. Taking the long view, this season hardly mars Seles’ career. She has a 333-46 match record. But tennis operates in the now, and Seles has not won a tournament in a year. Should she go this entire season without winning one, it would be her first without a title.
It’s uncertain whether Seles is merely slumping, fading or even if defining what’s happening with her game is her greatest concern.
The illness of her father - and coach - Karolj Seles, has hit her hard. He is home in Florida, battling a recurrence of stomach cancer.
Some see Seles’ situation as similar to that of Pete Sampras, whose coach and best friend, Tim Gullikson, died of brain cancer in May, 1996. In handling that loss, Sampras lost his way in tennis for a time. Understandably, Seles’ atten tion is not fully on her career.
For Seles and a few other players, Wimbledon is more than the most important tournament in the world. It is two weeks’ worth of microscopic attention to what she wears, how she appears, what she says.
This is the tournament that came up with the “grunt-o-meter” in 1992 to measure the volume of Seles’ grunts as she hit the ball. It is where, in her absence in 1991, it was speculated that she was pregnant. She was dubbed, “WimbleMum.”
This time around, Seles has been besieged again. The tabloid newspapers have hectored her about her weight. She’s been called fat outright in news conferences. At other times code words are used, such as “fitness.” Headlines have referred to Seles’ “weighty” problems, and stories have been written saying she has taken refuge in food in order to deal with her father’s illness.
Photographers have been particularly attentive when Seles serves. Every day after she has played the papers run photos of Seles’ exposed midriff during service. She took to wearing a towel around her waist during changeovers to hide the view.
Seles, 23, admits to being not at her ideal weight, but she has been hurt and puzzled by the obsession with her appearance, correctly noting that seldom are the male players are similarly analyzed.
“To me, it’s hurtful when they ask me (those) questions and put words in my mouth that I haven’t said,” Seles said. “My dad taught me to take all that in good spirits. He said, ‘They do that to everybody. Sometimes it’s your turn.’ I felt a few times that it was not fair. .. For some reason they pick on me more than others.”
Seles’ struggle on the court Monday, after an impressive start, was typical of her play this season. She was tentative and immobile, and once Testud steadied her own game, she waited for Seles to disintegrate.
Seles had begun so well, winning the first set at love and running seven consecutive games. Testud, ranked No. 23, was opportunistic in winning the second set but, again, Seles would have been expected to respond.
She did, briefly. She held a 5-2 lead in the third set and was serving for the match at 5-3, but was broken after an overrule changed a 15-15 score to 0-30. Seles became unsettled and it was downhill from there.
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: WIMBLEDON AT A GLANCE WIMBLEDON, England A brief look at what happened Monday at the Wimbledon championships: Weather - Cloudy and cool. High temperature was 60 degrees. Attendance - 35,566. Last year’s attendance for the second Monday was 31,575. Results - Men’s third round winners: No. 1 Pete Sampras, No. 3 Yevgeny Kafelnikov, No. 8 Boris Becker, No. 9 Marcelo Rios, No. 12 Patrick Rafter and No. 16 Petr Korda. Women’s third round winners: No. 3 Jana Novotna, No. 8 Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, No. 9 Mary Pierce, No. 11 Mary Joe Fernandez. Upsets - Third round men’s matches: Nicolas Kiefer upset No. 13 Andrei Medvedev. Third-round women’s matches: Sadrine Testud upset No. 2 Monica Seles. Stat of the day - Pete Sampras won 91 percent of the points when his first serve was good, including 100 percent in the second set. Quote of the Day - “I prefer kind of being, you know, not really talked about, and just playing my tennis. I kind of prefer not being the center of attention.” Pete Sampras, on his preference for privacy.
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