Karolj's unorthodox teaching methods produced a highly unorthodox player. Monica, a natural lefty, was encouraged to swing with two fists on both sides of the ball. So while her backhand is natural--with the right hand on top--her forehand was awkward. In order to execute it properly, Monica had to run around the ball and twist her body into the shot. This type of grip placed serious demands on its user: It required greater concentration and speed than a traditional forehand; moreover, it reduced the player's reach.
But where others sae weakness, Karolj saw strength. "My father wanter her to play that way and she accepted it" Zoltan told Sports Illustrated years ago. "She like it that way"
Almost from the very beginning, the two fister forehand was one of Monica's greatest weapons. She was a tiny yet tireless girl, capable of running down every ball, chasing it into the corner, contorting her body like a corkscrew, and then whap!--ripping a winner down the line. With each powerful stoke, Karolj would smile. Unorthodox? Perhaps. Effective? Absolutely.
Within a few months, Karolj realized his daughter was not just another moderately talented kid who had benefitted from an early start. She was...unique. She could practive for hours on end, never complaining, never whining, never losing focus. She abosorbed everything, like a sponge. And she seemed to actually enjoy the workouts.
Karolj would marvel at Monica's speed and power. Where did it come from? But she was blessed in less obvious ways. She had huge hands, with long delicate fingers--artist's hands--and like some Pinball Wizard of the tennis scene, such supple wrist. The elastacity produced a slingshot effect each time she swatted the ball, promprting more than one observer to stand slack-jawed at the sight of an 8 year old with the professional groundstroke, a little waif of a girl capable of throttling opponents ten years her senior. Looking back, even Monica herself had trouble comprehending her rapid development. 'i've seen the tapes and I really cant believe it" she told Vogue Magazine. "It's unbelievable how hard I could hit the ball at that age."
Monica was only 9 years old when she won the Yugoslavian 12 and under championship, a feat even made more impressive by the fact that she barely understood the parameters of the sport. To her, it was simple: Hit the ball, run, hit the ball again. Beyond that well, Monica knew nothing. She did not even know how to keep score--she kept turning to Zoltan, a constant companion during tournaments, and asking whether she was winning or losing.
Usually of course, she was winning. If Monica had only a rudimentary understanding of the rules of the game, she knw enough to keep moving, to keep swinging. Most important of all, she had talent her opponents could only imagine.
In 1984, at the age of 10, Monica won the European 12 and under championship. In 1985, as an 11 year old, she not only defended her European title, but was named Yugoslavia's Sportswoman of the year--a very remarkable accomplishment considering no one under the age of 18 had ever won the award.
It was also in 1985 that Monica finished first in the 12 and under division of the Orange Bowl Tournament in Miami. Then she caught the attention of famed instructor Nick Bolletieri, whose respected tennis academy in Bradenton, FL included such starts as Andre Agassi and Jim Courier. Bollettieri sat in the stands beneath the glowing Florida sun, working on his infamous tan, when he was suddenly riveted by what he saw: a scrwny kid, all arms and all legs, scrambling around the court like a waterbug, pausing only to take the ball on the rise and smack it back at her opponent with such ferocity that it took his breath away.
(to be contnued)