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BY MATTHEW CRONIN

May. 27, 2003

Monica Seles has won nine Grand Slams and is perhaps the most beloved player on tour today. Everywhere she goes, fans sing her praises, perhaps because she has been through so much emotional trauma in her 29 years of life or maybe because she’s such an incredible fighter on court.

But it’s becoming very painful to watch this legendary talent and on Tuesday at Roland Garros, she played one of her worst matches ever when she was blasted off the court 6-4, 6-0 by young Russian Nadia Petrova. The former three-time champion had little stick on the ball, could barely move side to side and displayed no fire.

That’s because she knew coming into the tournament that her chronically bad feet wouldn’t allow her to play at a top level and she was only competing on a hope and a prayer.

The 29-year-old Seles has suffered one stress fracture or another in her feet the past six years. In her prior 10 appearances in Paris, she had never lost before the quarterfinals. Tuesday was the first time that she ever lost in the first round of a Slam.

After the match, Seles said that if her chronically bad feet don’t heal, she may retire.

"Yeah, it's one of the options for sure," she said. "If I’m in pain, I’m not going to be playing. Bit I’m a positive person. I try not to give up. I’ve faced worse stuff. This has been a difficult time off the court the past few weeks (one of her close friends, IMG owner Mark McCormack, recently passed away). I don’t know how my body will react to rest. And if it doesn’t react well, then I have to stop."

This is the first time that Seles has gone that far discussing retirement. She hates when it’s brought up and in the past few years has always denied that she was considering it.

She had a decent year in 2002 and it was easier to believe that she still had the goods to compete with the slew of 20-somethings who have no problem standing toe-to-toe with her. But her refusal to undergo surgery — she says she doesn’t believe in it — means that all she can do is wait and hope that her feet heal, even though that hasn’t worked in a long time. For Monica to be at her best, she needs a lot of practice and when she has to rest every couple months or so, it’s impossible for her to get her elite level back.

"Thank God I had a really good year last year," she said. "This year’s been a struggle. I think I do have to give it a break and reassess what I want to do after my foot responds to it. Because this way, it’s too aggravating for me to practice and play with pain and my results have not been something that I’m happy about the past few months."

Seles, who won the French in 1990, '91 and '92, suffered perhaps her worst defeat here. She never looked comfortable on court, as the 20-year-old Petrova frequently wrong-footed her, brutalized her second serves and simply out-muscled her in inside-the-baseline rallies.

Seles committed 48 unforced errors to only 25 from her foe, including 12 double faults. The former No. 1 was broken six times by Petrova, who also defeated her in Rome two weeks ago when Seles retired with a foot injury down 6-3, 4-1.

"It was just one of those days when I couldn’t put too many balls in after 4-4," Seles said. "My serve really let me down. But at the same time, I’m a player who needs to practice to have confidence. I knew coming in, I didn’t have it. I was debating playing, but once I decided to, I gave it my best shot."

Seles won eight of her nine Slam titles before her April 1993 attack at the hands of a deranged German fan. She literally dominated the sport in the early '90s and just before her stabbing, her greatest rival, Steffi Graf, said that Monica was simply better than her at that point.

When she finally came back to the tour in 1995, she had lost a little speed and Graf had clearly improved. Seles did manage to win the ’96 Australian Open and has been a factor in many Slams since then, but she was eventually lapped by Martina Hingis, Lindsay Davenport and the Williams sisters.

In the past couple of years, she’s played all of the top kids tough, which is why she still believes she has another Slam in her. But all the top players — Serena, Venus, Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin-Hardenne — can move like the wind and if Seles' feet are stuck in the red clay or on green cement, there’s no way she’ll ever rise to the top again.

That’s why she’s needs to skip Wimbledon, take as much time off as possible and hope that her feet heal well enough to give herself one more shot of glory at the U.S. Open and then hang it up.

Because even her most devoted fans must have had a hard time watching the sad Seles who fell so easily on Tuesday and don’t want to see it again. They are better off with the memories of the giggly girl who once raised the trophy in Paris as if it were a monogrammed champagne glass she kept hidden in her room for special occasions.
 

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I love you Monica!
You are ALWAYS a champion in my eyes!!! :worship:
 

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Thanks, hingis-seles :wavey: ....at least Cronin sounds like he's halfway supportive of Monica, but still too maudlin for my tastes. As always, Monica's quotes are much more matter-of-fact and no-nonsense than the surrounding story....
 
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