Monica becomes 42nd member of the Laureus World Sports Academy
(excerpts from an article on the Laureus World Sports website)
MONICA SELES NAMED NEWEST ACADEMY MEMBER
NEW YORK, December 13, 2005 – Monica Seles, winner of nine Grand Slam tournaments, has been named the newest member of the Laureus World Sports Academy. She becomes the 42nd member of the Laureus Academy, a unique collection of the world’s legendary sportsmen and sportswomen.
Seles was the dominant player in women’s tennis in the early 1990s. In her career she won the Australian Open four times, the French Open three times and the US Open twice.
She became a tennis sensation in 1990 when she was the youngest ever winner of the French Open, at 16, beating Steffi Graf in straight sets. With a punishing two-fisted forehand, fierce backhand and a strong return of serve, she is considered by many to be the first power player in the women's game, paving the way for subsequent champions like Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova.
Seles’ career was profoundly affected in April 1993 when she was stabbed by a deranged spectator during a match in Hamburg. As a result, she did not return to competitive tennis for over two years.
Edwin Moses, Chairman of the Laureus World Sports Academy, said: “We are delighted to welcome Monica Seles as a new Academy member. Monica made an instant impact on her sport as an incredibly talented youngster and for many years was the outstanding player. What happened to her in Hamburg was a tragedy for her and for her sport, but her determination in fighting back to play again showed her tenacity and courage. That experience, awful though it was, has made her determined to give something back to society and to reach out to help underprivileged people through her work with Laureus.‿
Monica Seles said: “It is an honour to be invited to join the Laureus World Sports Academy and I am already excited at the prospect of working with so many legendary sports stars. The Sport for Good Foundation has done incredible work over many years and I plan to do what I can to help. I am so fortunate to be involved with a great sport like tennis and if I can give back to others, this is what is most important to me.‿
Monica Seles was immediately in action for the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation, visiting the Fight Back project in Crotona in South Bronx. Crotona is one of the most racially diverse districts in New York City, comprising African-Americans, Dominicans, West Africans, Puerto Ricans, Hondurans and Mexicans. Over 90% of school children receive free lunches, only 27% of students can read at grade level and just 26% can demonstrate proficiency in maths.
The Fight Back project, based at the Mary Mitchell Centre, is a jiu-jitsu programme which aims to help women at risk of abuse. The women are generally African-American and Hispanic, either unemployed or in low-pay situations. They are all poor and need the confidence and skills that self defence classes teach.
With very little funding the jiu-jitsu programme has impacted on the lives of over 150 youngsters and 30 adults. With the support of the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation, the programme will become a permanent component of the Centre and will be able to expand to help even more people. The longer term target for Fight Back is to reach out to high school students at risk of dropping out, to teens involved in gangs and violence and to the mobile classes within the shelter system.
Born in Novi Sad, Serbia (then Yugoslavia), Monica Seles began playing tennis at the age of six, coached by her father Karolj. She won her first tournament at the age of nine, despite not fully understanding the scoring system, and in 1985 at the age of 11, she won the prestigious Orange Bowl junior tournament in Miami, Florida, where she caught the attention of tennis coach Nick Bollettieri. In 1986, the Seles family moved from Yugoslavia to the United States, and Monica enrolled in the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy, where she trained for two years.
Seles played her first professional tournament in 1988 at the age of 14 and won her first career title at Houston in May 1989, where she beat Chris Evert in the final. Seles’ victory at the French Open the following year made her an instant star. Facing Steffi Graf in the final, she saved four set-points in a first-set tie-breaker, which she ultimately won 8-6, and went on to take the match in straight-sets and become the youngest-ever French Open champion at the age of 16 years 6 months.
From 1991 to 1993, Seles dominated women's tennis, winning 22 titles and reaching 33 finals out of the 34 tournaments in which she played. She won the Australian Open three times in that period, the US Open twice and the French Open twice. She had a 55-1 win-loss record in Grand Slam tournaments. She was unable to play at Wimbledon in 1991 because of injury.
Everything changed for Seles on April 30, 1993, following the incident which shocked the sports world. During a quarter-final match between Seles and Magdalena Maleeva at Hamburg, a deranged fan of Steffi Graf attacked Seles with a knife. When she eventually returned to tennis, she won one more Grand Slam title, the Australian Open in 1996, when she beat Anke Huber in straight sets, and she reached three more finals, the US Open in 1995 and 1996, and the French Open in 1998.