Martina Navratilova figured if Monica Seles was No. 1 when she left ten
Martina Navratilova figured if Monica Seles was No. 1 when she left tennis, so she ought to be No. 1 when she returns to the game.
And after a bit of a struggle, that’s the way it will be.
Navratilova, president of the WTA, said that Seles will be ranked co-No. 1 with Steffi Graf when she returns to tournament tennis next month, 2 1/2 years after Seles was stabbed in the back during a tournament in Hamburg, Germany.
``That’s where she was and that’s where she belongs,″ Navratilova said Wednesday.
The WTA made it official today. For a while, there was some question whether the WTA would grant the ranking to Seles, especially after a contentious players meeting at Wimbledon.
``What happened was there was some misunderstanding and some miscommunication between the players and the agents,″ Navratilova said. ``The bottom line is the players want Monica back, and perhaps they didn’t understand the ranking system and how it works.″
Seles was prepared to come back without a ranking and accept wild card invitations to tournaments. Navratilova, however, said that if Seles were not ranked, it would create early round matches between her and top-ranked players.
``Having her play Steffi in the first or second round would not do anybody any good,″ she said.
Under terms of the agreement, Seles and Graf will be co-ranked No. 1 for the first six tournaments Seles plays.
``The players had no problem with that,″ said Navratilova, who will play Seles in a made-for-TV exhibition at Atlantic City on Saturday, July 29. The match will be shown by CBS.
The problem, Navratilova said, was how Seles would be ranked after the first six events. One proposal was to calculate her standing based on the number of tournaments played rather than the regular minimum of 12 within a 52-week period. Among those opposed to that idea was Graf, who thought it would give an unfair advantage to Seles.
Graf was concerned that her own chronically aching back might not allow her to play 12 tournaments and, in fact, Graf withdrew on Wednesday from the Toshiba Tennis Classic because of her back.
For her part, Seles is feeling fine. ``I’ve been practicing really hard,″ she said. ``I’m having fun and enjoying it. It’s an exciting time for me. I’m excited about all of this.″
She understands it will take a bit of an adjustment to play in front of crowds again. ``Matches are different (than practice),″ she said. ``There’s a huge crowd. There’s the pressure of the match. Every ball counts. It’s a thing I’ve not done in 2 1/2 years. I’ve just got to go back to what I was doing.″
It was a session of hitting with Martina last May that convinced Seles it was time to return to her sport.
``I played at the end of last year, back and forth, depending on emotions,″ she said. ``When I hit with Martina, it was so much fun. I thought to myself, `Why am I not doing this?′ I needed to make a decision to take the next step, to go out and to put it behind me and put it in a box.″
For her part, Navratilova is excited to have Seles back in women’s tennis. ``No matter how great a sport is, it needs stars,″ she said. ``When Monica was stabbed, we lost our No. 1. To have her back will be a great boost.″
Seles, who won’t be 22 until Dec. 2, said tennis fans should not expect much change in her. ``I’m still the same person,″ she said. ``I’m a little taller. I’ve grown up a little. I’m 2 1/2 years older.″
If the July 29 match is the beginning of Seles comeback, could it also set the stage for a return for Navratilova, who retired from singles competition a year ago?
No way, she said.
``I’m done with singles,″ she said. ``I don’t want the anxiety and the nerves. This is a win-win situation for me. I’m playing against No. 1 and I’m a retired, 38-year-old has-been.
``A comeback? That’s not going to happen.″