Before Justine and Kim, there was another Belgian in the Top 10 - she was the first, in fact. Who was her idol? What was her biggest win? What has she been up to since retiring in 2000? Read on...
Published June 17, 2013 12:00
BRUSSELS, Belgium - We all know about Belgium's two World No.1s, but before them it was petite powerhouse Dominique Monami who broke their nation's barrier, becoming the first Belgian in the Top 10. She won four WTA titles, reached two Grand Slam quarterfinals and retired at the end of the 2000 season, when she was still in the Top 20. So how does she look back on all of it? Here she is...
On how she got into tennis...
"Well, my parents and my sister were playing tennis just for fun at a tennis club. When I was born I was already going there with them, and at the age of four I hit my first tennis ball against the wall. At the age of nine my parents finally asked me if I wanted to take some lessons, and I said yes. Then at age 10 I played my first tournament. I just really loved playing tennis. That's how it all started for me."
On which player inspired her the most when she was a kid...
"I actually loved watching tennis - we had the French Open and Wimbledon on TV most of the time. And my favorite player was Chris Evert. She was the one who really inspired me in the beginning. I just loved the way she was on the court, the way she was dressed, the way she hit the ball - actually you can see my style when I hit my forehand, it's very similar to hers, especially my left hand. I really wanted to become like her one day. I was dreaming to play in Wimbledon and be a champion like her."
Did you have any other Belgian influences when you started playing?
"Well, the first Belgian players to get into the Top 100 were Ann Devries and Sandra Wasserman. They were already in the Top 100 when I turned pro. Sabine Appelmans was also the same generation as me but she started earlier than me on the tour, because I didn't turn pro until after I graduated from school when I was 18. I decided to turn pro for two years and see how things went, and actually they went very well because after a few months I was already in the Top 100. And that's how it started."
Who were the toughest players for you in your first few years on the tour?
"Well, you always have certain players you don't like to play, but I never really had a specific one for my whole career. I think it was more just struggling with the top players the first few years. For me, what made a huge difference in my career was when I beat Arantxa Sánchez-Vicario at the 1997 Australian Open. I had no expectations going into the match, but I had won a tournament the week before and was playing pretty well. So I stepped onto the court and just tried my best. I lost the first set really easily - I was so nervous - but it turned after that. I won 8-6 or 9-7 in the third set. That gave me a lot of confidence that I could make it, and that was really the start for me, for my international career, beating one of the best players in the world. It was a very big win for me and I will always remember it."
Was that your biggest win?
"Beating Martina Hingis at Filderstadt in 1998 was the most special, not just because she was No.1 at the time, but there was a succession of things happening at that tournament. First of all, I wasn't supposed to go there - I was sick the week before, and the tournament called me and asked if I wanted a wildcard, so I went, but with no expectations. I was happy to win my first match, but then I beat Venus Williams in the second round, 61 62, which was crazy. She had just won a tournament and was No.5 in the world. And then I played Martina. I knew if I beat her, she would lose her No.1 position and Lindsay Davenport would become No.1. Also, if I beat Martina, that would make me get into the Top 10. It was like I opened a really big door - it's not like I was lucky, and other players fell out of the Top 10 for me to get in. I beat the No.1 in the world and got in myself. I deserved it. It was so great for me."
You retired in 2000 - why?
"I was going through a difficult time in 1999. My mother had cancer so everything was different, and I was getting really tired of travelling, and also I knew I could never reach the Top 5 or No.1. So I decided 2000 would be my last year. I wanted to go to the Olympics. My goal was to get a medal - singles or doubles, it didn't matter. And I really wanted to retire on a positive note - I wanted to remember everything in a positive way, not with my ranking dropping or getting injured. So I was No.18 in the world when I retired. I think I could have played many more years if I wanted to, but I made the decision already. The medal was my big goal and I made it - so when I quit, I really had no regrets."
What have you been doing since you retired?
"Well, first of all I'm a mother. I was actually pregnant when I retired - I learned in Filderstadt I was pregnant, and I was three months pregnant at the WTA Championships! My daughter is 12 this year. I have a fantastic husband now too. In terms of career, I've been doing coaching for companies since 2010 - mental coaching, team coaching, stress management - I'm trying to use what I learned on the tour to help them better control their emotions and become stronger, mentally and physically. And I've been Tournament Director in Brussels, and also for a men's Challenger. It's like since I quit playing tennis, I'm in the sport more than ever now! But it's really nice to be on this side of everything."
What do you think about the 40th anniversary of the WTA?
"The funny thing is, not only is it 40 years for the WTA this year, but it's also 40 years for me! It's a special year for me too this year. But to me, playing on the WTA was being part of a big family, and also it was like the university of life - it's a difficult life, having no social life and dealing with so much pressure, but you get to travel around the world, meet people and learn so much. I had a chance to visit so many countries and see so many cultures. You can learn languages as well. It's not an easy life, but it's a very nice opportunity for many reasons, and it has helped me so much in my life."